Gov. Legislature Working Together to Change Bridgewater State, Increase Access to Mental Health Care

By: State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell – Oct, 2016

Bridgewater State Hospital is the center of attention for a number of high profile incidents stemming from the use of excessive force. These include the recent suicide of Leo Marino this April and the death of Joshua Messier from the excessive use of restraints in 2014.

As the Vice Chair of Public Safety, I have visited Bridgewater and continue very productive conversations with both Legislative and Administration leaders on this important topic. Bridgewater houses many individuals with significant mental health needs that cannot be addressed properly by the Department of Corrections that has overseen the facility.

The overrepresentation of individuals with mental illness in the criminal justice system is a systemic problem. Nationally, rates of serious mental illness are 4–6 times higher in jails and 3–4 times higher in prisons than in the general population.

The Massachusetts Legislature has acted broadly over the past few years to divert individuals suffering from addiction and mental illness away from traditional corrections facilities to facilities that are more appropriate. Grants to over 40 Police Departments in towns and communities throughout Massachusetts provide training and diversion programming.

The MA Legislature has made a sincere commitment to mental health that can be seen in the over $127 million dollars in increased funding on mental health since fiscal year 2010.

Turning Bridgewater into a complete Mental Health Facility would likely be quite costly and complex, but allowing the status quo to continue also is not acceptable. As promised by previous administrations, local care in a more non-institutionalized setting for those suffering from mental illness has not materialized – so we are starting from scratch.

That is why I am strongly supportive of an incremental proposal to take all mentally ill inmates convicted of state crimes out of Bridgewater. The rub is, however, that these individuals will also need access to robust mental health care. This would leave a population at Bridgewater State that requires primarily mental health care – not supervision by prison guards. These individuals would not have regular interactions with prison guards, primarily, but with mental health professionals.

Implementation of this first step will be difficult – but it is indeed a vital first step.

State Representative Campbell represents Methuen and Haverhill in the State Legislature and currently serves as the Vice Chair of Public Safety and on the Committee on Ways and Means (Budget).

She can be reached at 617.722.2430/