New Hampshire prison officials have begun providing records to a disabilities rights organizations investigating suspected abuse or neglect in the death of an inmate with mental illness.
According to the Department of Corrections, Phillip Borcuk, 34, died in the state prison's residential treatment unit in December after he was heard "engaging in self-injurious behavior." The Disabilities Rights Center, a federally mandated protection and advocacy agency, sued corrections officials in February after they failed to turn over records related to the death.
While the lawsuit continues, a federal judge on Thursday ordered corrections officials to provide the records, saying they "unjustifiably failed to respond to (the center's) repeated, reasonable requests prior to this litigation."
The order also set up strict timeframes for responding future requests. That's important because the initial information it has received could take the investigation into new directions, including investigating whether other inmates were at risk, said the center's lawyer, Andrew Milne. He said the investigation will include examinations of the adequacy of mental health treatment at the prison, staffing levels and training to respond to such incidents, the use of force and restraint, and the prison's evidence documentation practices.
In granting the center's request for a preliminary ruling, the judge agreed the center would suffer irreparable harm if the documents weren't immediately produced.
Milne noted that as time passes, the memories of those involved may become unreliable. And others could be harmed during such delays, he said.
"Delays of months or even weeks before producing records compromise the investigation," he said.
A spokesman for the corrections department referred questions to Assistant Attorney General Rebecca Ross. She said she believes the order was unnecessary but the state will continue to comply and provide documents.
-Holly Ramer, Associated Press