Senator Hassell-Thompson Holds Public Hearing On Proposal To Delay Implementation of Special Housing Unit Exclusion Bill

Ruth Hassell-Thompson

New York State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Chairwoman of the Standing Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction and her Senate colleagues conducted a public hearing on March 17, 2009 to discuss the Governor’s proposal to delay the implementation of the Special Housing Unit (SHU) Exclusion Bill until 2014.

After over a decade of litigation, the SHU Exclusion Bill was signed into Law as Chapter 1 of 2008. As a result of the SHU Exclusion Bill and the DAI (Disability Advocates, Inc.) Court Approved Settlement, inmates diagnosed with serious mental illnesses would be moved from solitary confinement into residential mental health units (RMHU) under the auspices of the Department of Corrections (DOCS) and Office of Mental Health (OMH). The first of these facilities is to open at Marcy Correctional Facility in September 2009. However, due to New York State’s fiscal crisis, the Governor recommended in his Executive Budget Proposal for 2009-2010 to delay any further expansion.

The hearing focused on the SHU Exclusion Bill, and the DAI Settlement and what the potential impact of delaying the implementation will mean to the seriously mentally ill.

"The motivating factor for pursuing the public hearing was to allow the public and persons with expertise relating to this issue the opportunity to weigh in on the proposed delay," said Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson. "We also heard from officials representing DOCS and OMH, and I am not convinced that this delay is appropriate and will have the least injurious impact on this population."

The participants included: The Honorable Sol Wachtler, Retired Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals and Professor of Law at Touro Law School; Brian Fischer, Commissioner of the NYS Department of Correctional Services; Richard Miraglia, Deputy Commissioner of the NYS Office of Mental Health; Robert Corliss, Director of Forensic Services for the Mental Health Association of NY, Inc.; Pauline Magnetti of the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI); Nina Loewenstein, Staff Attorney, Disability Advocates, Inc.; Betsy Sterling, Director of Special Litigation and Projects, Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York; and Sarah Kerr, Staff Attorney, Prisoners’ Rights Project Legal Aid Society.

According to Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, "The Department of Corrections and Office of Mental Health’s posture that they need to spend five more years after the opening of Marcy Correctional Facility to study its operation is puzzling. They have already had fifteen years to analyze an appropriate mental health treatment and further, they failed to explain what more they expect to learn from Marcy."