A friend sends along this story on NY's effort to move its mentally ill prison pop out of specialized housing units and into real care. Sounds like it may finally work.
Lawmakers passed a long-debated measure Tuesday to remove mentally ill prison inmates from solitary confinement and at least one of the prime sponsors says he's confident Gov. Eliot Spitzer will sign it after negotiators resolved some lingering issues.
The measure passed on Tuesday would require that most inmates with serious mental illnesses be placed in treatment units rather than kept in Special Housing Units, or SHUs. Additionally, the Department of Correctional Services would have to conduct periodic mental health assessments of any inmates who are assigned to SHUs.
The bill's sponsors estimate 12 percent of the state's prison population, about 8,000 inmates, have serious mental illness.
Many elements of the bill would not take effect until two years after the state builds residential mental health units, but no later than July 1, 2011.
This year's budget includes more than $50 million for construction and $4 million for staffing in the Office of Mental Health and Department of Correctional Services. By 2010-11, $29 million will be added to the budget to implement the program, Spitzer spokesman Matt Anderson said.
Prison reform and mental health advocates say SHUs are cruel and have led to suicides. Some prison officials and correction officers have expressed concern about safety and the extra training they should have in order to deal with some mentally ill inmates. The issue has been before the Legislature for at least five years.
"Placing prisoners in solitary confinement has been an inhumane form of punishment for those already suffering with severe psychiatric disabilities," said Leah Gitter of Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement.