Re: “Proposal to house ‘forensic’ patients at prison decried” (Page A1, Feb. 2):

I write as a psychiatrist who worked at Maine State Prison as a part-time psychiatrist many years ago.

More recently, for eight years, I ran a bereavement support group there as a hospice volunteer, then helped to develop a program that has enabled selected inmates to take training to become hospice volunteers in the prison.

I have also worked for the State Forensic Service and so have accumulated considerable knowledge about mentally ill offenders over the years.

Gov. LePage’s proposal to transfer forensic patients from Riverview to MSP is ill-thought-out for the following reasons:

Correctional staff at MSP lack training in understanding mental illness and the interpersonal skills and tools necessary to deal with the mentally ill.

 Mentally ill inmates accrue longer sentences than they had upon entering prison. This is because if they have difficulty comprehending or following orders, they may be given more time as a punishment for not complying with the rules.

Mentally ill prisoners are vulnerable and more likely to be bullied or exploited by other inmates.

 If an inmate has been declared not guilty by reason of insanity or incompetent to stand trial, he or she should not be branded as a criminal.

 We need to remember that these forensic patients are in Riverview for care intended to restore their sanity or competency to stand trial, not for punishment. They need humane treatment, not Tasers.

Riverview was designed as a state-of-the-art facility that could handle difficult forensic patients. The problem is not with the building per se but with staffing issues.

Rather than build a new facility, the state and patients would be better off investing money in better staff training and working conditions.

Diane H. Schetky, M.D.


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