Admin briefs lawmakers on Bridgewater State Hospital plan

By Andy Metzger
September 14, 2016

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, SEPT. 13, 2016….Bridgewater State Hospital will move from a hybrid correctional facility and mental health treatment center to take on a more pure clinical focus under a new Baker administration plan that was hailed by prisoner advocates who sought further reforms.

Secretary of Public Safety and Security Dan Bennett told lawmakers on Tuesday that under the plan, the ratio of clinical staff to patients would increase and correctional officers would guard the exterior of the facility and entry ports while contracted mental health professionals would provide security within.

“The goal in this case is to take Bridgewater State Hospital and transition it from what it is now into more of a mental health facility,” Bennett told the Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse on Tuesday. “This has been what Bridgewater State Hospital should have been all along. This is a bold step that Governor Baker instructed me to take almost a year ago.”

Prisoner advocates urged the state to move control of the facility to the Department of Mental Health, arguing Bridgewater is not licensed as a hospital and Department of Correction oversight would lead to a correctional mindset.

Jim Pingeon, the litigation director for Prisoners Legal Services, said after three decades visiting Bridgewater he still has the same reaction to the facility.

“How can you possibly expect someone with a serious mental illness to get better in a place like this?” Pingeon said. He said, “It is a prison that’s called a hospital. But it’s not a hospital.”

Pingeon praised the administration for looking at the facility in a way, he said, no other administration has before, but he objected to the state-committed inmates – those who have received state prison sentences – being sent to Old Colony, which he described as “taking them out of the frying pan and throwing them into the fire.”

Pingeon claimed some correctional officers out of “frustration” or “sadism” encourage patients to kill themselves. Asked about that accusation, Bennett said, “I dispute that 100 percent.”

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