September 4, 2013

Another View: State prison wrong setting for Riverview forensic patients

Those found not responsible for criminal offenses shouldn't be warehoused in a corrections facility.

By GRAINNE DUNNE

We are troubled by the assertion that patients who have been found too mentally ill to be held responsible for a crime still belong in prison ("Our View: Forensic patients swamp state mental hospital," Aug. 25). 

It is true that Riverview Psychiatric Center lacks proper resources, training and staffing to handle the toughest cases and that serious reforms are needed; however, relying on our criminal justice system to address deficiencies in the mental health system will not solve the problem. 

While the creation of a mental health unit at the Warren prison facility could provide valuable services to the prisoners there, it would not be fit to serve patients now housed at Riverview.

A state prison is no place to house patients who have been found incompetent to stand trial or not criminally responsible by our courts. Legally, they have been declared unfit for the criminal justice system. 

Recent events at Riverview have highlighted significant systemic troubles that jeopardized the well-being of both staff and patients. Now the hospital is at risk of losing $20 million in federal funds.

As we search for a solution, we must resist the urge to reach for a criminal justice Band-Aid to solve these much deeper problems. Housing Riverview patients at the prison would have much greater costs down the line.  Maine is not yet equipped to serve the needs of all of our mental health patients, but warehousing them in prison is not the answer.

Grainne Dunne is a justice organizer with the ACLU of Maine.

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