State Prepared to Incarcerate Mental Health Patients; Endangement an Issue with Correctional Officers Association
By MARY KAUFFMAN
October 12, 2018
In a notice dated October 9, 2018 and effective immediately, Laura M. Brooks, the Deputy Director of Health and Rehabilitation Services of the Alaska Department of Corrections, wrote that due to staffing and safety concerns, API is shutting down units in the hospital which will drop the bed level capacity to approximately 36, down from their usual capacity of 78. Brooks wrote, per statue, when someone is waiting on commitment to API but there are no open beds, the individual may be held at a local hospital or correctional facility - "this is very similar to the Title 47 alcohol holds we are all familiar with". She explains that the primary difference is that the T47 alcohol holds expire after 12 hours but there is no time limit for a T47 Mental Health hold.
Brooks wrote, " With bed space at API extremely limited, and local hospitals resistant to taking T47 holds, we can expect many of these individuals who are awaiting API commitment to end up in our facilities.
Quoting a news release, the Alaska Correctional Officers Association said that Alaskans who believed their loved ones were getting the care they needed are now being treated as criminals by Governor Walker and Commissioner Dean Williams. Recently, the Alaska Department of Corrections has publicly acknowledged “prisons aren’t built to be psychiatric centers.”
ACOA said that against the wishes and safety concerns of Correctional Officers, the State has begun to incarcerate these API patients as Title 47 mental health holds instead of treating them as patients in a hospital, where they can get the help they need.
Most Alaska Correctional facilities do not have 24-hour medical or mental health staff working in the institutions and have far fewer medical staff and resources than API or a hospital stated ACOA. Just like API, the DOC is also severely short staffed. Correctional Officers, who will be tasked with dealing with these patients, are not doctors or mental health clinicians. As these patients are not criminals, they cannot be kept with sentenced inmates. They will then be placed in segregation cells, already full mental health units, or in busy booking areas.
ACOA stated that Commissioner Williams has admitted keeping individuals in prison under a Title 47 hold is a problem stating, “Placing responsibility on prisons for the safety and wellbeing of medically unstable individuals puts a significant burden on corrections staff, puts the affected individuals at risk, and elevates liability exposure for the prison system.”
The Alaska Correctional Officers Association said now the Alaska Department of Corrections is adding non-criminal, mental health patients into this situation. How is the DOC possibly going to be able to keep these vulnerable mental health patients safe in this environment? "How is adding mental health patients to Correctional Officers’ responsibilities going to make an admittedly dysfunctional system any better?" asked Brad Wilson, the ACOA Business Manager.
Wilson wrote on behalf of the ACOA, “As the DOC readily admits, Correctional Officers are already over tasked and dangerously understaffed. Now the Governor is putting Correctional Officers in an unprecedented situation by making them responsible for API mental health patients in addition to their current duties. Someone is going to get hurt, and we know who the Commissioner is going to blame, and it will not be himself, but Officers. Despite his own, previous comments, this is the position that Commissioner Williams and the Governor now feel is appropriate, putting some of Alaska’s most vulnerable, innocent citizens into prison.”
The 2016 Department of Corrections GCL Staffing Analysis concluded that Alaska’s institutions are unsafe. This is the second independent study that has called for additional Correctional Officers in order to ensure safety in Alaska’s institutions. The Staffing Analysis conducted under Governor Walker Administration recommended the State hire, at least, a total of 1016 Correctional Officers. On February 9, 2016, when the study was published, there were 964 Correctional Officers. Today, there are only 871, 93 fewer Correctional Officers than when the Staffing Analysis said staffing was so low it was “compromising institutional security and increasing potential liability.”
Quotes from the 2016 CGL Staffing Study
There are 13 correctional facilities operated by the State of Alaska with one located in Ketchikan.The Alaska Psychiatric Institute, based in Anchorage, provides emergency and court-ordered inpatient psychiatric services to clients around Alaska. API is a Behavioral Health Division of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
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