Wednesday, December 16, 2009

NY prison system opens unit for mentally ill (update)

By MARY ESCH, Associated Press Writer
POSTED: December 15, 2009

ALBANY - The first inmates moved Tuesday into a new state prison unit for disruptive mentally ill prisoners that was created in response to a lawsuit filed by an advocacy group in 2002.

The 100-bed Residential Mental Health Unit at Marcy Correctional Facility in Oneida County was designed by the state corrections and mental health agencies under the terms of a 2007 settlement with Disability Advocates.

The nonprofit group sued to improve treatment of mentally ill prisoners and to stop putting inmates with serious mental illness and disciplinary issues in solitary confinement.

Inmates in the new unit will receive more mental health care, therapeutic programming and exercise.

Of the 58,690 inmates in New York state prisons, 7,844 are diagnosed with mental illness, including 2,359 with serious mental illness, said Erik Kriss, spokesman for the Department of Correctional Services.

Inmates designated as seriously mentally ill are those with schizophrenia, delusional disorder, psychotic disorder, major depression and bipolar disorder. The designation also includes suicidal inmates and those driven by psychosis or depression to harm themselves.

About 200 of those with serious mental illness have confinement sanctions for disciplinary violations, Kriss said. Traditionally, such inmates are moved to an S-block, a special housing unit with lockdown cells that reduce the need for security personnel.

The Disability Advocates lawsuit claimed that prisoners with mental illness throughout New York did not get adequate mental health treatment, and as a result, many of them were being punished with long sentences of solitary confinement, severe restrictions on property and visits, and no access to out-of-cell programming.

The lawsuit said isolation and idleness led to severe psychiatric deterioration in these isolation units, including acts of self-mutilation and even suicide.

The new mental health unit at Marcy has about 100 corrections employees and 26 Office of Mental Health employees, compared with 38 employees when it was an S-block, Kriss said.

Kriss said inmates in the new unit have constant access to both prison and mental health staff. Each inmate has at least four hours daily of programming and therapy.

''No other prison system to our knowledge affords the inmate patients the amount of time of out-of-cell programming and therapy, including group therapy and group interaction, as the RMHU,'' Kriss said.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Texas executes man at centre of mental disability row

Defence attorneys for Bobby Wayne Woods argued for state to spare inmate following low scores on IQ tests

Chris McGreal in Washington, Friday 4 December 2009 15.28 GMT

Texas has executed a child killer at the centre of a bitter dispute over what defines legal mental impairment after several courts ruled that he could be put to death despite a low IQ.

Bobby Wayne Woods, 44, was killed by lethal injection for raping and murdering his girlfriend's 11-year-old daughter after the US supreme court denied a last minute appeal by lawyers who argued that the condemned man fell within a ruling by the same court in 2002 that the mentally impaired could not be sentenced to death.

After being told that the supreme court had refused to intervene, Woods' last words were: "Bye. I'm ready."

Tests on Woods in prison put his IQ as low as 68, below the widely accepted cut off for mental impairment of 70. However, in pursuing the death penalty, the state fell back on other tests conducted when he was a child that put his IQ as high as 86.

Maurie Levin, a University of Texas law professor who represented Woods, said that he is "transparently childlike and simple" and described the execution as "a travesty".

Despite the supreme court ruling seven years ago barring the death penalty for the mentally impaired, individual states are left to decide what defines severe learning disabilities. The court said that an IQ test of "around 70" was an indicator but did not set a specific test.

Recent studies have shown that men with IQ scores lower than 70 have been executed in several states, including Texas and Alabama.

Earlier this week, the Texas board of pardons and paroles, voted unanimously that Woods, who has been described as barely literate, should be executed. The Texas attorney general, Greg Abbott, argued to the supreme court that the IQ tests on Woods were unreliable.

"The only experts to ever conclude that Woods was mentally retarded did so after he had committed this murder and had motivation to underperform," he said.

Richard Hattox, who prosecuted Woods, defended the execution.

"Woods testified, and the jury watched him reason and think and debate with me and his own lawyers," he said. "If he was going to claim mental retardation, having him testify was a mistake, because that took away any doubt."

Woods raped and slit the throat of Sarah Patterson after abducting her with her brother, Cody. The boy was badly beaten but survived.

The children's mother, Schwana Patterson, was refused permission to watch the execution because she served a prison sentence for failing to protect her daughter from sexual abuse by Woods.

Woods was the 24th person executed by Texas this year.