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Patrick criticizes use of restraints on mentally ill

Governor Deval Patrick discussed the Massachusetts criminal justice system at a forum.

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Governor Deval Patrick discussed the Massachusetts criminal justice system at a forum.

Governor Deval Patrick said today that the use of restraints and seclusion in handling mentally ill individuals in state prisons should be restricted to cases where there is a “serious and immediate” danger to the inmate and others.

Patrick’s comments came on the heels of the controversy surrounding the 2009 death of Joshua K. Messier, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic sent to Bridgewater State Hospital for a psychiatric evaluation who was killed a month later while prison guards untrained in mental health disorders were placing him in four-point restraints.

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Patrick, citing Messier’s “awful death,” said that except in cases of immediate emergencies, where inmates pose a serious danger to themselves or others, they “should not be tied down, limb by limb, in the 21st century here in Massachusetts.”

He said using restraints may “seem reasonable in the moment but does not necessarily protect the inmate or the officers.” He promised a full accounting of Messier’s death “in the coming days.”

Patrick also said the use of restraints would be ended on pregnant inmates in labor.

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Patrick’s comments came as he announced a multifaceted program with the goal of reducing recidivism by prison inmates by 50 percent over the next five years.

The governor’s proposal focused on treatment options for inmates suffering from substance abuse addictions and mental illness.

His proposals included a “stepdown” program under which inmates in state prison would be transitioned through county correctional facilities.

The proposals also included a focus on sending civilly committed prisoners to Department of Public Health facilities instead of state prisons.

Patrick noted that Massachusetts is the only state in the country that holds civilly committed people in prisons, such as Bridgewater State Hospital.

The Globe reported Sunday on Messier’s death in the medium-security prison.

A state medical examiner called Messier’s death a homicide, concluding that his heart stopped during the guards’ effort to strap him down. The autopsy also found injuries consistent with a beating, including internal bleeding on Messier’s brain, and blunt force injuries to his neck, torso, arms, and legs.

Yet, nearly five years after his death, no one at Bridgewater State Hospital has been prosecuted or even punished, and all but one of the guards still works for the Department of Correction, the Globe reported.

Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
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