How do you balance public safety and the rehabilitation of inmates found not guilty by reason of insanity?
It’s a struggle that state legislators are currently facing as they attempt to rebuild and redefine the management of our maximum-security psychiatric hospital in Middletown.
“The idea that my attacker could be free, even for a few hours, on the whim of one voice, is unacceptable,” said Jill Kidik, a former Hartford police officer who was stabbed and nearly killed in 2018.
In 2021, a judge found the woman not guilty of repeatedly stabbing Kidik due to her mental state.
So, after reports of patient abuse, complaints about little or no help to reintegrate into society, and safety issues around the hospital itself, a task force was set up in 2019 to find solutions. .
NBC Connecticut’s Mike Hydeck spoke with Sen. Saud Anwar about the task force and what they hope to accomplish with Senate Bill 450.
mike hydeck“So I read the report, a long list of things that are up for debate, one of which is the Psychiatric Security Review Board, it’s the panel that decides whether patients can leave, they do so in consideration. What does it look like could possibly change with that?”
Saud Anwar“So the challenge we have with the PSRB, or the Psychiatric Security Review Board, is that they are the ones who determine whether an individual patient with a psychiatric illness is safe to be able to reintegrate into society either for a short term or for longer. And the report and the task force that wrote the report was very clear, they wanted this PSRB removed from the state of Connecticut. And the state of Connecticut is one of the last , two or three states that actually have a PSRB at that time. And they were very clear, even though it wasn’t a unanimous decision, it was the view of an overwhelming majority. has a bit of a challenge and anxiety associated with such an important action. The fear is that on the one hand we want to ensure that people with a psychiatric disorder will receive the treatment they need, and with the treatment , they should be able to enter a somewhat safer environment. them and for the public. c and the victims. But on the other hand, we don’t want to push this issue too much, because there’s a risk to society and there’s a risk to the victims in this situation, and that’s where you have to push and shoot. And then we want to make sure it’s safe for society. First and foremost, this will be the central part. But we also know that the PSRB model has failed a lot of patients in our state. »
mike hydeck: “It’s a bit difficult to answer. You heard just before that the soundbite of ex-officer Jill Kidik in Hartford, she was stabbed in the neck by someone who was in a psychiatric episode at the So you know there’s a lot of sentiment behind this. Senate Bill 450 also calls for the construction of a new facility. Is it possible? And is it necessary in your opinion?
Saud Anwar“Well, that was another area where the task force was very confident that the current installation is outdated, it’s not a place for anyone to heal, it actually caused more harm than good. And again, this is based on the tragedy where we identified the abuse of the patients, but also the manpower and their ability to be able to complete the tasks. not right away. But what this bill does is it directs DMHAS to start looking at feasibility and then planning. Because ultimately, sooner or later, we’re going to need ‘a new facility. It’s going to take many years in the future for that to happen, but the journey begins now. And this bill was actually asking them to begin that process in the journey right now.”
mike hydeck“So in the report too, it’s important to address how to help patients reintegrate into society. And strong community services are what they’re asking for. Money also needs to be set aside for that ?”
Saud Anwar“Correct. We have a responsibility to make sure this facility cares for and protects society, but not everyone in this facility needs to stay there forever. And that’s what I think is an area of opportunity where some of the other states have been able to transition in that direction, and then we have to start looking at what we can do better.”
mike hydeck“Now we understand from our reporting that some steps have been taken to minimize the possibility of future abuse since the Bill Shehadi case passed. What do you think of that? Where are we at with the how things are starting to look up so far?”
Saud Anwar“We heard a number of testimonies, and then those testimonies confirmed that DMHAS took it upon themselves to make a very significant effort to fix what had been done wrong in the past and to have a very controlled environment to really improving the capacity of the workforce or and also ensuring that every patient is protected, so we feel that the commissioner has been very clear that this is the direction in which they are heading, and the patients who spoke also felt the same way. So that’s a good thing. But it doesn’t necessarily solve the long-term problems which are structural and require legislative measures. We will take these legislative measures. But it Good to know that DMHAS has taken it upon themselves to resolve this issue in conjunction with the Department of Public Health.
mike hydeck“We know the report is complete. Senate Bill 450, where does it go from here?”
Saud Anwar: “I see it as a journey. So this report has a number of different parts. 450 is the first part of legislation that the public health committee will be proposing to start the process of addressing some of the historic structural issues that haunt Whiting Forensic Hospital But then we’ll have more bills going forward and we’ll have a feedback loop because we’re setting up a working group to look at PSRBs but we’re also looking at another advisory group that’s going overseeing the whole operation of Whiting, so we’ll be in touch with how it’s working, and then there are a number of other recommendations that we’ll come up with in the next session.
mike hydeck“How soon do you think real things will start happening or is it really going to get stuck in the legislative process for a while?”
Saud Anwar“No, as you have already, you have already alluded to the fact that DHMAS is already taking steps to try to improve things. We estimate that the structure as soon as the end of September. We are waiting until after the ‘passing this bill, by September we’ll have a working group that will be ready to oversee the responsibilities and also the second group of the advisory council is going to make sure that they look at the wider functioning of Whiting. So hopefully we will take care of our responsibilities collectively as a state because what happened before has just shattered our trust in our governance as a state. And everyone is on board to know that we can do better As a state of Connecticut, we expect to be among the best rather than among We are determined to make that happen, and that is what our legislation will begin to make.
Chief Investigator Len Besthoff shares his perspective
A series of reports on patient abuse at Whiting by NBC Connecticut Investigates not only helped uncover what was going on there, but likely helped spur the task force created to address the issue.
Chief Investigator Len Besthoff has been on Whiting’s story for years.
mike hydeck“Now Len reminds us first what was the early advice that patient abuse was going on there.”
Len Bestoff“Basically it was that they were arresting some of the people who worked there. And we had heard about it long before that. The real genesis of uncovering this abuse was that someone was looking at surveillance cameras. And they saw the abuse and they reported it, but then it was very quiet. And then we got wind of the arrests. And once you have arrests, you have affidavits, it explodes.
mike hydeck“And then we started looking at what was really going on there, so the task force just released their findings. They studied that, interviewed hundreds of people trying to figure out what’s going on and what needs to be done. When you read it and heard about the task force report, did anything catch you off guard or surprise you? Like they were talking about building a brand new facility – it’s is a great setup to start with, isn’t it?”
Len Bestoff: “It’s huge. But the problem is that it’s old. It’s the 60s era, so, if it’s not further in some parts. And so what they said, it’s, ‘yes, we need a new building.’ But the thing is, if you just get a new building, you’re going to get a new building with all the same issues.”
mike hydeck“And they also have to worry about staffing in terms of that. It’s one of those things that we’ve been talking about for a long time. From the hospital, some changes are already happening. And when the task force came out, when the arrests were made, according to your reports, do these changes make a difference?”
Len Bestoff“I don’t know if that makes a total difference yet, Mike. I mean, we’ve definitely heard about reviews of restraints, things like that. More training for forensic treatment specialists and nurses in terms of acknowledging potential abuse. But I’ve also spoken with workers there and what they’ve told me is that some of these same unsolvable issues exist. It’s partly down to cause of the building, certainly. Part of it is the bullying of the employees, that they bully each other. not far to think that it could extend beyond that.”