For Immediate Release
October 27, 2004
Contact: Karen Aframe at Disabilities Rights Center, Inc., 603-228-0432
Alan Linder at New Hampshire Legal Assistance, 603-431-7411
The Disabilities Rights Center (DRC), has joined New Hampshire Legal Assistance (NHLA) in its nearly thirty year effort to achieve adequate mental health treatment for mentally ill inmates in New Hampshire State Prison in Concord and the Secure Psychiatric Unit (SPU). As a result of NHLA’s earlier litigation efforts in Laaman et al. v. Warden et al., the prison and New Hampshire’s Department of Corrections agreed to meet certain standards in mental health care and to provide the prison and SPU’s mentally ill inmates with specific mental health programs and services. In June, 2004, NHLA filed an enforcement action against the Corrections Department in Merrimack Superior Court claiming that the prison and the Corrections Department failed to live up to the Laaman agreement. DRC hired staff attorney Karen Aframe, formerly of Hale and Dorr LLP in Boston, to work with NHLA on this enforcement action.
Over the last decade, the prison has begun to house mentally ill persons in record numbers, but it has failed to deliver adequate mental health services to this growing population. This failure impacts both the prison community and society at large. The average period of incarceration for inmates in New Hampshire is less than three years. Adequate mental health treatment is essential if these inmates are to have a decent chance of successfully integrating into society upon their release from prison. While in prison such treatment is also critical to prevent further deterioration in their mental condition, which can sometimes lead to suicide.
In addition, the failure to provide adequate mental health services also leads to increased costs and spending within the prison. Untreated mentally ill inmates are more likely to have difficulty complying with prison rules, which can jeopardize safety and security of other inmates and staff in the prison, thus requiring the prison to spend additional resources to create a safe and secure prison environment. These increased costs are ultimately borne by taxpayers.
The violations alleged in the enforcement action include the prison and corrections department’s failure to establish a residential treatment unit for seriously mentally ill inmates, to provide certain mentally ill inmates with group and individual therapy, to adequately staff the prison’s mental health unit, and to comply with monitoring guidelines of mentally ill inmates in the prison’s Special Housing Unit. NHLA, DRC, and the state are presently engaged in discovery.