This is a terrible secret. The men’s prison in Concord houses a small number of mentally ill patients who have never been convicted of a crime. They are deemed too dangerous to live at the State Hospital, where they might hurt other patients. This difficult group does not belong at the prison either. Many cannot defend themselves from hardened criminals.
Prison and State Hospital officials admit every three or four years at a legislative hearing that they are poorly serving these folks who do not belong in either place. One of those hearings is tomorrow, June 29, at 3:30 p.m. The meeting is before the Joint Rule making Committee in Room 212 of the Legislative Office Building. Officials, I think reluctantly, will seek approval to keep doing the wrong thing.
This year Rep. Rene Cushing sponsored HB 602 to pull those patients out of the prison. Sadly, he had no suitable place in mind to send them. Ideally, they would have gone out of state, if any beds were free. That would have been an expensive remedy, without any funding available. And it would have been hard for family members to visit them in Kansas or Arizona.
The bill also earmarked $200,000 for a study commission to develop plans for a proper New Hampshire facility. The bill generated the usual sympathy from lawmakers, who killed it for lack of money in a tight budget year. Budget years are always too tight to deal with mentally ill folks who lack a proper place for treatment.
Please come and speak tomorrow against reissuing the longstanding rule that authorizes the Division of Mental Health to warehouse and endanger an unpopular population in a bad place. We urge you to oppose the rule as a terrible policy, especially if you know anyone improperly housed this way. Our opinions may not solve the problem or keep the rule from taking effect, but it will delay the process. And it will force prison or mental health officials to address all of the questions we raise. They want us to raise them.
It is my understanding the Feds are aware of the issue and may be planning litigation to force the state to do the right thing, whatever the cost. That is the only good solution we can reasonably expect.