CONTACTS: Kevin Voyvodich, Esq. Simonne Maline, Executive Director
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 2, 2016
Advocates Denounce Legislative Proposal to Send Individuals with Mental Illness to Prison
Augusta – Disability Rights Maine (DRM) and the Consumer Council System of Maine (CCSM) voiced their strong opposition Tuesday to LD 1577, An Act to lncrease the Availability of Mental Health Services. They maintain that despite the bill’s title, the legislation actually proposes to criminalize individuals who have been found incompetent to stand trial or not criminally responsible for their crimes. Under these circumstances, individuals do not enter the correctional system, but rather receive much-needed mental health treatment in a hospital setting. However, the language of LD 1577 proposes to send these patients to the Maine State Prison for an indefinite period of time if “there is a therapeutic treatment advantage.” DRM Staff Attorney Kevin Voyvodich states, “We have serious concerns about this bill, as the Constitution prohibits treating patients as prisoners, when they have been found not guilty due to their mental illness and are committed to the custody of the Commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services.”
While the purported purpose of this legislation is to address the long-standing deficiencies at Maine’s only forensic treatment facility, the Augusta-based Riverview Psychiatric Center, opponents argue that the bill actually fails to achieve this goal. Simonne Maline, CCSM Executive Director, expressed her concerns, stating “I am deeply disturbed that the Administration thinks the answer to the problems at Riverview is to transfer our fellow peers to the Department of Corrections. We are going light years backwards in our mental health system, not working towards recovery. The answer is treatment, not punishment.”
Attorney Voyvodich agrees, stating “prison is fundamentally punitive in nature and we are talking about individuals who have been found by the courts to need treatment rather than punishment. We all should be advocating for these patients to receive the treatment necessary to recover. Otherwise, we face a situation where an individual could spend 20 years in prison for a crime they were never found guilty of. No one should be comfortable with that.”
We will keep you updated on when the public hearing is scheduled.