Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

David A. Paterson, Governor
Brian Fischer, Commissioner (DOCS)
Michael F. Hogan, PhD, Commissioner (Office of Mental Health)

DOCS Contact: Erik Kriss, 518-457-8182, Erik.Kriss@doccs.ny..gov
OMH Contact: Jill Daniels, 518-474-6540, jill.daniels@omh.state.ny.us

For immediate release:

December 15, 2009

Note: Additional details can be found in Commissioner Brian Fischer's memo  to facility superintendents.

DOCS, OMH Open Residential Mental Health Unit at Marcy Correctional Facility

A first-in-the-nation, 100-bed Residential Mental Health Unit opened at Marcy Correctional Facility in Oneida County today for male inmates with serious mental illness and disciplinary confinement sanctions.

The new program initiative, developed collaboratively by the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) and the Office of Mental Health (OMH), will serve inmates with serious mental illness through various treatment interventions and strategies that have demonstrated effectiveness in addressing the unique and difficult issues of this population.

The Residential Mental Health Unit (RMHU) is the hallmark of the 2007 court-approved private settlement agreement the State reached with Disability Advocates Inc., a non-profit advocacy organization.

The RMHU is the most comprehensive and complex mental health prison treatment program developed in the United States in the past 20 years.

It will provide mental health and correctional rehabilitative services in a state-of-the-art correctional residential setting by affording participants the opportunity to develop skills that address their individual needs. Inmate patients will be offered at least four hours per day of out-of-cell treatment and programming, primarily in open group settings. Congregate exercise will be allowed for inmates who have demonstrated treatment progress and will count toward out-of-cell therapeutic programming as determined by the RMHU treatment team.

The 57,000 square-foot RMHU program building, which includes office space for DOCS and OMH staff attached to a secure inmate housing unit, was designed to provide treatment in a safe and secure environment to inmate-patients with a serious mental illness and a disciplinary sanction of more than 30 days that otherwise would be served in 23-hour-per-day confinement. The housing unit for these inmate-patients was created by converting two-story, double cell space from the former S-block (Special Housing Unit) site at the male, medium security Marcy Correctional Facility.

DOCS also offers the Therapeutic Behavioral Unit, a similar 16-bed unit, for female inmates with serious mental illness and disciplinary confinement sanctions, at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County.

Governor David A. Paterson said: “This cutting-edge program represents government at its best by providing a long-term approach to a difficult problem that is both humane and cost-effective. New York is once again leading the nation, in this case by creating a holistic environment for the treatment and care of perhaps the most challenging population within the State prison system.”

DOCS Commissioner Brian Fischer said: “We have met the challenge of caring for the thousands of inmates with mental illness in our State prison system head-on for the benefit of not only the offenders themselves, but our staff and public safety. By working with the Office of Mental Health to create and open this new and first-of-its-kind residential setting, we will provide the environment, treatment and therapy these offenders need to manage their mental illness, make our prison system safer, and better prepare themselves for life not only during incarceration but also back home after their release. This new program specifically concerns itself with offenders who have demonstrated serious problems adhering to prison rules, often as the result of their mental health difficulties. The goal of both DOCS and OMH is to assist the offenders in understanding their illnesses and how to overcome the problems that often led them into conflicts.”

OMH Commissioner Michael F. Hogan, PhD said: “The RMHU is the latest collaborative step to develop the most comprehensive prison mental health program in the country and through this, to reduce use of special housing/segregation for inmates with mental illness. Earlier steps have included screening on admission for all inmates, a wide array of treatment programs-- including counseling, medication treatment, special day and residential units--and special attention to aftercare when inmates with mental illness are released. The RMHU will provide the highest level of secure treatment outside of hospitalization, emphasizing the appropriate behaviors that will allow inmates to succeed outside of special care institutional settings. It is a collaborative and innovative approach that to our knowledge is the first of its kind anywhere.”

An additional, 60-bed RMHU is tentatively scheduled to open at Five Points Correctional Facility in Seneca County in the 2011-12 State fiscal year.

DOCS and OMH will phase inmates in at the RMHU at Marcy, beginning with seven who arrived today. Each inmate-patient requires an orientation from both DOCS and OMH staff. Every employee who works in the RMHU received seven days of specialized training from OMH and DOCS prior to the unit’s opening.

All correction officers working at DOCS receive training on mental illness and suicide prevention. In addition, all facility superintendents, deputy superintendents, and others who serve as disciplinary hearing officers receive training on a variety of topics involving people with mental illness.

The RMHU aims to transition its participants back into the general prison population or another prison-based mental health program where the inmate can function effectively.

The RMHU builds on 15 years of enhanced services for inmates with mental illness. During that time, DOCS and OMH significantly increased the number of employees and mental health units for inmates with mental illness. Both agencies have collaborated to create additional specialized services for inmates with disciplinary confinement sanctions, and the agencies provide a host of other treatment modalities that offer the level of mental health services each inmate requires based on his or her needs.

The commitment by DOCS and OMH to provide appropriate treatment and services to the mentally ill is embodied in more than 2,000 specialty beds for inmates with mental illness. In addition, beginning in December 2007, OMH began screening every inmate entering prison for mental health needs and providing immediate care as warranted.

The new RMHU building at Marcy, whose design and construction was managed by the Office of General Services under DOCS’ direction, was awarded “Silver” level status by the U.S. Green Building Council. It is the first building in an American correctional facility setting to reach LEED-NC 2.2 status, which signifies the highest level of energy efficiency, conservation and environmental preservation of a correctional building in the nation to date. The new building was credited for a projected 26 percent energy use reduction compared to a baseline energy code-compliant building, including a projected 24 percent water use reduction and the utilization of refrigerants containing no ozone-depleting chemicals, recycled materials for 33 percent of all building content, and low volatile organic compound-emitting carpeting, adhesives, sealants and paint.

The RMHU represents the commitment by DOCS and OMH to provide appropriate and meaningful care and treatment to inmates with serious mental illness while maintaining the safety and security critical to the operation of New York’s State correctional facilities.