Reports show ‘chronic mental illness’ in CT prisons, says senator

The state Department of Correction needs nearly $5 million to provide adequate medical care in Connecticut prisons, where 80 percent of inmates suffer from mental health or substance abuse issues that require treatment, according to documents obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media Group. .

A state Sentencing Commission report to be released in March shows that nearly 80 percent of Connecticut inmates have a mental health or substance abuse problem that requires treatment.

According to a separate report to be submitted to lawmakers and Governor Ned Lamont, the DOC needs nearly $5 million to hire more than 50 mental health and substance abuse physicians, social workers, and addiction counselors to provide appropriate treatment to the Connecticut prison population.

“They’re not doing the job,” said state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague. “These reports clearly show that there is a problem with chronic mental illness in state prisons.”

The same team of researchers who reviewed DOC mental health and substance abuse diagnosis files for one day in January 2022 also found that 96 percent of inmates incarcerated that day have struggled with a mental health issue or substance abuse, or both, within your lifetime.

“Essentially, as a society and as Connecticut legislators, we have decided that our correctional facilities are quasi-psychiatric institutions and that we are going to serve that population by incarcerating them,” Osten said during a forum on the issue in November.

The report, which is expected to be delivered to the full Sentencing Commission in March, is a detailed extension of a similar study Osten requested in 2019. Those figures released in 2020 indicated that 80 percent of female inmates and 28 percent One hundred of the men inmates suffered from a serious mental health problem that required treatment.

At the time, Osten thought the numbers were underestimates since the DOC largely designates mental health status based on inmates’ own reports.

As a former corrections officer, Osten told the panel in November that she witnessed how the closure of state mental health institutions decades ago affected Connecticut prisons.

Osten submitted a bill last week to the Judiciary Committee, seeking funding for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2024 to provide “sufficient resources” to respond to the findings of the Sentencing Commission report.

“It’s important to recognize that we’ve held DOC accountable for the people within the boundaries of their facility,” Osten said. “We are going to have to address the medical, social, mental health and substance abuse of those in state custody.”

The authors of the Sentencing Commission report studied diagnostic information from people who were incarcerated on a particular day in January 2022. Based on the data, the study team reached roughly the same conclusions as the 2020 report. based on inmate self-report.

According to the study, approximately one-third of inmates had an active mental health disorder that required treatment, and another 41 percent had a history of mental health disorders that did not require active treatment. More than 80 percent of the incarcerated women had an active mental health disorder that required treatment, compared with 28 percent of the male inmates, the authors said.

The rate of active mental health disorders was highest for inmates 25 and younger at 37.6 percent, including 41 minors ages 15 to 17, according to the report. The most common types of mental health disorders were mood disorders, which affected about 24 percent of the incarcerated population, or 2,241 inmates, and post-traumatic stress disorders, 12.65 percent, or 1,200 inmates, according to the researchers. data.

The prevalence of diagnosed mood disorders in the general population is about 10 percent, the study concluded. Approximately 8 percent of the inmates had a psychotic disorder compared to approximately 1 percent of the general population.

The report showed that inmates who have cases pending or have not yet been sentenced had a “significantly higher” rate of mental health disorders of 39.7 percent than the population of sentenced inmates, which was at 25.8. percent. The finding led the authors to wonder if an inmate’s condition could affect their mental health.

Nearly 90 percent of the inmate population was classified as having a history or current substance abuse problem, according to the study. The DOC does not classify inmates who have a substance abuse problem as having a mental health disorder, although the two are related in the general population, said Dr. Reena Kapoor, an associate professor of psychiatry at the College of Medicine at Yale and one of the study authors.

“The DOC is behind the rest of the world on that,” he said.

Nearly 81 percent of the incarcerated population on a day in January 2022 had an active mental health disorder or substance abuse condition that required treatment, the authors concluded. Nearly 25 percent of the prison population had both, the study found.

The results may represent men’s reluctance to disclose conditions that would make them vulnerable, Kapoor said. “It could also make a difference in access to mental health care,” Kapoor said.

Black and Hispanic men make up a large portion of the state’s prison population, but they may not be culturally comfortable asking for help, he said.

A 2022 law required the DOC to submit a plan to the legislature this year outlining the agency’s needs to address inmate health care, including mental health and substance abuse treatment. In all, the agency needs about 250 more health care employees, including 114 licensed practical nurses and 61 registered nurses to deal with the roughly 15,000 inmates who come through the doors annually, according to the document.

The two biggest impediments to hiring health care personnel are the number of licensed and trained providers in the community available to work and the salaries offered by the state, which the agency says in the document are not competitive.

Inmates are evaluated as quickly as possible so providers can create a treatment plan, said Ashley McCarthy, a DOC spokeswoman.

“We closely monitor the mental health and substance abuse requirements of individuals in our custody and remain vigilant for those who require treatment,” McCarthy said in a statement.

But Osten questions whether the agency’s response is sufficient given the plan that was presented and the findings of the Sentencing Commission report.

“I think at first people didn’t believe what he was saying,” Osten said. “I want us to think about what the plan (presented by the DOC) and the Sentencing Commission report say. These are huge numbers. The question is are we going to put money in the budget to address this?”

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