MA Gov Overhauls How Justice System Handles the Mentally Ill

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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker today will announce what the Boston Globe calls “a substantial shift in how the state’s criminal justice system handles mentally ill people, moving the troubled Bridgewater State Hospital away from a prison model and toward a more clinical approach.” The state plans to shift mentally ill convicts out of the state prison in Bridgewater and into a separate facility, leaving behind other mentally ill inmates charged with sometimes minor crimes but not convicted. Baker would beef up mental health services and place sharp limits on the contact that correctional officers have with inmates. Such contact proved deadly in case of Joshua Messier, 23, who died in 2009 as guards wrestled him into restraints.

The Globe detailed the Messier case two years ago in the first of a series of stories on mistreatment at Bridgewater State. “I’ve read all the reports, I’ve read all the news stories, I know the experiences of individuals with serious mental illness and their families,” said Marylou Sudders, Baker’s secretary of health and human services. “There’s no question in my mind that this [plan] really lays out a very different expectation of treatment and services.” Mentally ill inmates would get what state officials hailed as a new level of care. Every inmate would receive an individualized treatment plan within 10 days of admission. Those on psychiatric medications would quickly see a psychiatrist. And electronic record-keeping would allow for easier evaluations of past care. “It will look and feel more like a psychiatric hospital,” said Sudders. Bridgewater State Hospital, despite its name, is not a hospital. It is a medium-security prison. All the inmates — 257 at last count — have been charged with a crime. Just 45 have been convicted.

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