Letter: Take action on Secure Psychiatric Unit

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Imagine, a son experiences mental health issues for the first time. The family makes the difficult decision to admit him to the state psychiatric hospital. One day the hospital informs the family that the son is being transferred to the state prison.

Did the son commit a crime? No, the family is informed. Nonetheless, the son is transferred to the state prison, forced to wear prison attire, given a prison number, and is held in solitary confinement.

Watching this, one could easily conjure images from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Except, this is not a movie. It’s not even fiction.

Since the 1980s, our state has opted to transfer patients deemed too dangerous to be held at the state hospital to the Secure Psychiatric Unit at the state prison. Innocent people are incarcerated, sometimes for years, because of mental health challenges.

The Legislature was presented this session not with a remedy but an improvement. House Bill 1565 would require the SPU finally be accredited as a psychiatric hospital. But, concerned by the price tag, the Senate downgraded HB 1565 to require only accreditation as a “behavioral health facility,” for which the definition is uncertain.

The House and Senate will strive to find a compromise this week in a committee of conference. If elected officials genuinely are appalled by the incarceration of innocent people, the least they can do is pass HB 1565 in its original form and insist that the SPU be accredited as a psychiatric hospital.



(The writer is policy director for ACLU-New Hampshire.)