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N.H. Lawmakers Hear Proposal to Transfer Control of Secure Psychiatric Unit to Health Dept.

Paige Sutherland / NHPR

A proposal to transfer jurisdiction of the state's only secure psychiatric unit to the Department of Health and Human Services went before lawmakers today.

For decades New Hampshire's secure psychiatric unit, or SPU, has been at the state prison. That means some patients who need secure treatment, but have committed no crime, have to get help behind prison walls.

A bill from Democratic Representative Renny Cushing would transfer control of the unit from the Department of Corrections to the Department of Health and Human Services. It also directs the health department to oversee construction of a new secure facility outside the state prison.

Cushing told fellow lawmakers today about a mother who's son was transferred to the SPU from New Hampshire Hospital.

"She wasn't aware at the time that the psychiatric unit, that the SPU, existed inside the walls of the state prison," he said. "She said I never could have contemplated when I brought my child to the state hospital, that they could end up behind the prison walls.

Governor Chris Sununu is expected to address the issue of the secure psychiatric unit in his budget address later this week.

Jason Moon is a senior reporter and producer on the Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of police officers.

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