Senate Passes Bill To Prohibit Solitary Confinement Of Mentally Ill Inmates And Establish Residential Treatment Programs

Thomas P. Morahan

June 08, 2007

The New York State Senator Thomas P. Morahan announced New York State Senate passage of legislation that would prohibit mentally ill inmates from being placed in solitary confinement "special housing units" and would establish residential treatment programs for these inmates.

"This legislation is consistent with both the mental health treatment needs of these inmates and the safety and security of our correctional facilities," said Senator Morahan, who chairs the Senate's Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee.

Currently, approximately 12 percent of the prison population, (approximately 8,000 inmates) is affected by serious mental illness. In addition, studies have shown that when this population is disciplined using solitary confinement, inmates engage in acts of self-mutilation and commit suicide at a rate three times higher than inmates in the general prison population.

Under the provisions of the bill, inmates who meet the criteria for serious mental illness will be removed and placed in a residential mental health treatment program or any other clinically appropriate program. In addition, the superintendent is required to report to the Commissioner on the mental health treatment or confinement of such inmates.

In addition to excluding inmates with serious mental illness from isolated confinement, the bill would require that residential mental health treatment programs be established by the Commissioner of Corrections.

These programs will provide clinically appropriate treatment for inmates while maintaining the safety and security of the facility. In addition, the Department shall conduct forty hours of initial training for all correctional staff working in the residential mental health treatment programs. Eight hours of annual training will also be given to all correctional staff department-wide.

The bill was sent to the Assembly.