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Connecticut Prisons Exempt from Patient Bill of Bights
to the patients' bill of rights, Connecticut General Statutes §§ 17a-540
Bryant Wiseman, 28, died at the Garner Correctional Institution on November
17, 1999, apparently while being restrained. Wiseman was mentally ill and
had been diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time of
his death. On December 10, 2002, plaintiff Elaine Wiseman, acting on behalf
of Bryant's estate, filed a 12-count complaint against the state, the
department of corrections, the University of Connecticut health center,
prison officials and medical personnel, alleging they "failed to provide
adequate and proper medical care, supervision and medication to the
decedent, allowed his mental illness to go untreated or inadequately
treated, and permitted the decedent to become paranoid and aggressive under
circumstances that they knew would lead to a violent confrontation with
other inmates and correction staff."
Defendants moved for dismissal contending, among other things, that three
of the plaintiff's claims (counts 9, 10 and 11) were improper because "the
patients' bill of rights does not apply to correctional institutions." The
trial court denied the motion holding that the term "other facilities"
included in § 17a-540(a) was "broad enough to include the facilities of the
department of correction." The defendants appealed.
The Connecticut Supreme Court reversed, holding:
1) "A 'facility' subject to the provisions of the patients' bill of rights
is defined as any inpatient or outpatient hospital, clinic or other
facility for the diagnosis, observation or treatment of persons with
psychiatric disabilities . .." General Statutes 17a-540 (a).
2) Even though prisons "provide an increasing amount of psychiatric
services to inmates," including the Garner prison, which "contains a mental
health unit that 'operates an intensive mental health program for inmates
who are assessed with serious mental health concerns' ... these services
are incidental to the true purpose of correctional institutions generally,
and Garner specifically -- the confinement of individuals convicted of
felonies." Therefore, the state supreme court concluded, the term "other
facility" contained in § 17a-540 (a) "does not plainly and unambiguously
encompass correctional institutions."
Based on the above wordplay the court reversed and remanded to the trial
court with instructions to grant defendants' motion to dismiss counts 9, 10
and 11 of the complaint. See: Wiseman v. Armstrong, 269 Conn. 802, 850 A.2d
114 (CT 2004).
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