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Bill seeks to address patients in prison

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On Wednesday, May 23 the New Hampshire House and Senate passed a bill that requires the Secure Psychiatric Unit at the state prison to get accredited as a “behavioral health facility.”

About the SPU

The Secure Psychiatric Unit (SPU) was built to house prison inmates with severe mental health issues. However, any New Hampshire resident with mental illness who “present[s] a serious likelihood of danger to himself or to others” may be committed to the SPU without committing a crime.

New Hampshire Hospital, the state mental health hospital, transfers about five patients a year to the SPU.

Critics argue this unjustly treats citizens with mental illness like criminals, denying them access to appropriate care.

Click here to learn more about issues around mental health treatment in New Hampshire.

Proposed accreditation

HB 1565, the bill passed on Wednesday, was originally written to require the SPU to get accredited as a psychiatric hospital. This would require the SPU to meet rigorous treatment standards.

The Senate amended HB 1565 to instead only require accreditation as a “behavioral health facility” by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care.

Supporters of HB 1565

Supporters of HB 1565 argue the bill is a step in the right direction, holding the SPU accountable to some standards.

Paula Mattis, the Director of Medical/Forensics Services in the Department of Corrections, testified in a Senate committee that it would be impossible for the SPU to be accredited as a hospital. However, the Department of Corrections is open to a less rigorous accreditation.

Others argue the appropriate solution is for the state to build a secure psychiatric hospital separate from the prison.

Opponents of HB 1565

Opponents of the final version of HB 1565 believe that the accreditation as a “behavioral health facility” is inadequate. Sen. Martha Hennessey called the accreditation “nebulous at best.”

Meanwhile the state is already facing a lawsuit from one patient housed at the SPU, Andrew Butler. According to his attorney:

“[Butler] is held as a mental health patient without being in an accredited hospital, denied contact visits with his father, denied contact visits with his attorney, forced to wear prison clothing. He is locked down 23 hours a day. He has been tasered. The treatment he has received is cruel and unusual punishment without having been convicted of a crime and with no pending criminal process.”

How do you think New Hampshire should address patients in the SPU? Share your opinion in the comments below.


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