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N.H. Lawmakers Approve Added Protections for Patients Transferred to Secure Psychiatric Unit

Paige Sutherland/NHPR

Lawmakers approved a new rule designed to grant more due process rights to mental health patients who are transferred to the state prison. But as advocates for mental health reform argued these new protections should not have to exist in the first place.

The new rules make clear that patients who are being transferred to the state psychiatric unit who object to being moved to the unit at the state prison have the right to a hearing and a lawyer.

And those who do not object to being moved are also allowed to have access to a private lawyer, at no cost, to have their rights explained more fully — and can ask for a hearing at that point, if they object after that explanation.

But several people who testified on the rules urged the committee to reject them on the premise that the practice of housing psychiatric patients in the unit at the state prison was unconstitutional to begin with.

(Read more of NHPR's past coverage of this issue here.)

Wanda Duryea, who cofounded a group called Advocates for Ethical Mental Health Treatment with a former nurse who also worked briefly at the state psychiatric unit, was one of several who testified against the rule.

“The only thing that I can say about the proposed rule is that I believe the proposed rule should not exist at all,” Duryea said.

The head of the rules committee, Sen. John Reagan, said constitutionality of the law allowing patients to be sent to the secure psychiatric unity was an issue for another day — and the rules committee’s job in this case was only to look at the proposed rules.

The committee approved the new rules unanimously, though after the meeting some members said the underlying issues around New Hampshire’s mental health system still warrant more scrutiny.

Casey McDermott is a senior news editor at New Hampshire Public Radio. Throughout her time as an NHPR reporter and editor, she has worked with colleagues across the newsroom to deepen the station’s accountability coverage, data journalism and audience engagement across platforms.

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