Governor Deval Patrick and a large group of senior staff members visited troubled Bridgewater State Hospital on Thursday and announced that the administration will bring in a nationally recognized specialist to help reduce the medium-security prison’s overreliance on restraining mentally ill men, strapping their wrists and ankles to a bed, or isolating them in small cells for days or weeks at a time.
During a meeting of about two dozen officials that included top Bridgewater administrators and advocates for the mentally ill, Patrick asked for a report outlining short-, medium-, and long-term solutions to the issues confronting the facility, ranging from the excessive use of seclusion and restraints to whether patients and inmates treated at Bridgewater should be under the care of the Department of Mental Health, rather than the Department of Correction.
After the meeting, Public Safety Secretary Andrea Cabral told reporters the administration believes clinicians and prison guards at Bridgewater use seclusion and restraints too often and noted that Massachusetts is one of only two states — Iowa is the other — that treat mentally ill persons involved in the criminal justice system in a facility run by a department of correction.
Still, Cabral said Patrick’s focus is likely to be on improving treatment for mentally ill men held at Bridgewater, which has a population of around 325.
Patrick’s visit to Bridgewater follows a series of Globe reports citing the questionable use of seclusion and restraints at Bridgewater, including the events leading to the 2009 death of Joshua Messier, a 23-year-old mental health patient who died while guards were putting him in four-point restraints.
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