Bill bars extended confinement of mentally ill inmates

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STATE HOUSE, DEC. 29, 2014…..The confinement of inmates diagnosed with a serious mental illness in a segregated unit for more than 30 days would be largely prohibited under a bill lawmakers sent to the governor’s desk on Monday.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Newton), is one of a number of bills lawmakers are shuttling to Gov. Deval Patrick as they near the end of their two-year session. The bill passed the House on Dec. 15 and the Senate on Monday.

The legislation (H 4545) also requires the corrections commissioner to establish programs in Department of Correction facilities for treatment of inmates with mental illness; requires department staff who work in secure treatment and residential treatment units to receive mental health training; and allows the commissioner to transfer any inmate to a segregated unit if the inmate is “detrimental” to the program and has been screened by a qualified mental health professional.

“I have a long-standing commitment to the issue of making sure mentally ill individuals receive treatment rather than punishment,” Balser told the News Service earlier this month. “When mentally ill people are sent to segregation they deteriorate rapidly.”

According to a Senate Ways and Means Committee summary, the bill will cost $13 million when fully implemented.

Lawmakers also sent to the governor a bill extending for two years until July 2017 an expiring law allowing drug manufacturers to offer coupons and rebates for brand-name prescriptions (S 2286); legislation on property and casualty actuarial opinions and reports (H 4323); and allowing massage therapists to advertise electronically (H 4551).

Other bills that landed on the governor’s desk Monday included legislation requiring the Executive Office of Education to convene an advisory committee to study the development of six-year student career planning by guidance counselors for students in grades 6 to 12 (H 4527) and allowing applicants looking to renew a driver’s license or an identification card to be granted a 1-year extension of the use of their current photograph if the applicant provides a physician’s documentation that he or she has had an appearance-altering medical treatment due to illness (H 4369).

Separately, the Senate sent back to the House legislation promoting housing and support services for unaccompanied homeless youth (H 4517), and the House approved an update to the direct wine shipment law (H 4571) that allows out-of-state wineries to ship directly to Massachusetts wine drinkers.

The homeless youth bill calls for the creation of a commission within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. The commission would be tasked with studying and recommending services for homeless youth.

The secretariat would also be required, subject to appropriation or “third party reimbursement,” to enter into performance-based contracts with organizations and agencies to provide housing and support services for homeless youth, according to a Senate Ways and Means summary.

Once implemented, the legislation will cost $500,000 a year, the summary said. The bill passed the House on Dec. 11.

[Matt Murphy contributed reporting]

Copyright 2014 State House News Service

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