Lawyers for three mental health patients at Bridgewater State Hospital filed a class-action lawsuit against the facility Thursday, arguing that more than half of the patients there are being wrongly held in “harsh conditions of confinement,” even though they are not serving criminal sentences.
The lawsuit, filed in Norfolk Superior Court, calls for the transfer of approximately 175 patients locked up at Bridgewater mainly because they can be violent, not because they have been convicted of crimes. The lawsuit argues that the men need treatment, not incarceration.
Massachusetts is one of the few states that house civilly committed mental health patients — including those referred for psychiatric evaluations to determine whether they are competent to stand trial — in facilities run by the prison system. Most states house such patients in hospitals run by a department of mental health.
The mental and physical health of many Bridgewater patients is deteriorating, the lawsuit asserts, because the hospital illegally isolates patients, sometimes strapping them to beds. The suit says the hospital delivers inadequate mental health care “that would shock the conscience of a reasonable person.”
The mother of one of the three plaintiffs said she saw the class-action lawsuit as the only way to help her son, who has been diagnosed with autism and schizophrenia and has been held at Bridgewater since 2013, often in complete isolation.
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