Treatment Of Prisoners With Serious Mental Illness

Yesterday Governor Spitzer signed new legislation that will purportedly enhance the care and treatment of prisoners with serious mental illness by limiting the instances in which these inmates can be placed in segregated confinement. The legislation will remove prisoners with serious mental illness from what are commonly known as “special housing units” – where inmates who have committed disciplinary infractions are segregated from the rest of the prison population. The legislation would also implement a more sensitive approach to the treatment of prisoners with psychiatric disorders while meeting prison safety and security standards.

Those inmates with serious mental illness who are not removed from segregated confinement will be offered a heightened level of care, including additional out-of-cell treatment and programming. Mental health clinicians will also conduct periodic mental health assessments of all inmates who remain in segregated confinement.

Inmates with serious mental illness who are diverted or removed from segregated confinement will be housed in residential mental health treatment units that are jointly operated by the Department of Correctional Services and the Office of Mental Health. In these units, inmates will receive out-of-cell therapeutic programming and mental health treatment. A formal review process involving the input of mental health clinicians will decrease the likelihood that inmates will cycle back into segregated confinement. A number of these new mental health treatment beds already exist and many more are in development.

The new legislation authorizes the Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities to monitor the quality of mental health care provided to inmates and make recommendations about necessary improvements.

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