More on the changes at St. Lawrence Psych Center

On Tuesday of this week, members of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force and other local leaders headed down to Albany to urge the state to reconsider its plan to eliminate inpatient beds at the psychiatric facility. Earlier this week, St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells told WWNY-TV that if the psych center loses those inpatient beds, it will tax local jails (specifically, the St. Lawrence County Jail) as untreated people with mental illness turn to substance abuse.

Today, North Country Now reports, the state Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA) is taking a stand against the cut in services with a statewide radio ad. They’re making a related argument, that closing the center (and others like it) will force people to travel great distances to get psychiatric care, create overcrowded conditions in prisons, and cost jobs (the full text of the NYSCOPBA ad is in the article.)

St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg. Photo: Lizette Haenel

St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg. Photo: Lizette Haenel

In this context, I want to draw your attention to a really interesting article in the Buffalo News about the impact cutting inpatient beds can have on prisons and on people with mental illness. Here are a few highlights (although it’s worth reading the whole thing). These are taken directly from the article:

• Mentally ill inmates nationwide are more likely to become sexual victims while behind bars. Some 6.3 percent of state and federal inmates with “serious psychological distress” reported that they had been victimized by another inmate. That’s nine times greater than the percentage of victims with no mental disorder, according to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

• Inmates in designated mental health units are involved – as victims or perpetrators – in more assaults, contraband violations, self-injuries and other “unusual incidents” than general population inmates in New York’s most dangerous prisons. The rate of unusual incidents among prisoners in six of the system’s specially established mental health units in 2011 was more than three times the rate for Auburn Correctional Facility, a notorious maximum-security prison.

• Mentally ill inmates are easily preyed upon by general population inmates. Sometimes called “bugs,” inmates with psychiatric disorders are enlisted to run drugs or fill other dangerous tasks. A mentally ill or developmentally delayed inmate is “like a lamb or a zebra to a lion,” one prison-based mental health worker said. “Easy pickings.”

• Studies suggest that mentally ill inmates released from prison are more likely to re-offend if they return to drug abuse – which often accompanies mental illness – and drop the prescribed medicines they received in prison. The more effective the treatment while they are in prison, the less likely they will cause problems once paroled.

So, food for thought. State Sen. Patty Ritchie’s Facebook page says the Gov. Andrew Cuomo (who unexpectedly stopped by Tuesday’s meeting in Albany), will “personally review materials that make a case for the Psych Center staying open.” We’ll see what happens with that.

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2 Comments on “More on the changes at St. Lawrence Psych Center”

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  1. dan says:

    This thought is not original with me, but it seems strange that we have a problem “warehousing” people with serious mental health issues in psych hospitals, where they would receive real services, but don’t have a problem warehousing them in jail/prisons, where they don’t.

  2. Mervel says:

    Good point.

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