Chairwoman Flanagan, Chairwoman Malia and members of the Committee. I wish to offer testimony to the Committee in support of a bill that I have filed, H. 1935, An Act Relative to Mental Health Services in MA Correctional Institutions, Houses of Correction, & Jails. In the last session, this committee and the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing both reported this bill favorably.
This legislation will set minimum standards for mental health treatment offered within the Massachusetts system of corrections. It will require that every newly admitted individual to a correctional facility receive a mental health assessment and that all inmates receive specific mental health treatment when needed. The bill calls for mental health care quality assurance measures and continuity of mental health care when a prisoner is transferred; screening and assessment; mental health and substance abuse treatment; review of the use of seclusion, segregation, and restraints; suicide prevention; gender specific treatment of women offenders; psychopharmacological intervention for psychiatric disorders; transitional services; and treatment of special populations (e.g., persons with mental retardation or developmental disability, violent offenders, sex offenders, and older adults).
Observers of the correctional system in the Commonwealth and across the nation have known for many years of the severe mental health problems among inmates. In 1999 the United States Justice Department released its first comprehensive look at mental illness in correctional facilities. This report determined that one of every six persons incarcerated suffers from mental illness with the incidence even higher among women prisoners. As of February 2004, in the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, more than 2,000 open mental health cases existed within the prison population, representing 60% of the total female population and 19% of the male population. However, these numbers likely underestimate the mental health needs of the Massachusetts’ prison population. Mental health services in most facilities are either understaffed or the staff does not have the requisite training and certification to provide necessary services. Because of the high prevalence of mental illness among prisoners, it is necessary to require, in statute, that prisons and jails provide adequate mental health treatment.
Over time, more than 90% of prisoners return to our communities. Mental illnesses are highly treatable with proper services. Therefore prisoners who receive psychiatric services in prison will have a better chance of returning to society healthy. These individuals, with access to mental health care, will have a far greater opportunity to become productive citizens as a result of their treatment.
Thank you very much for your consideration of H.1935. I urge this Committee to again grant a favorable report for this legislation.