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PAMII Requires Records Release in Connecticut Prisoners' Deaths

A Connecticut federal district court held that the State of Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities (Connecticut P&A), a state agency designated by Connecticut's Governor to provide protection and advocacy services to individuals with disabilities, including persons suffering from mental illness, is entitled to access to deceased prisoners' psychiatric, medical and all other records pertaining to the prisoners' suicide deaths.

Between August 2000 and April 2001, Connecticut P&A became aware of the suicide deaths of five Connecticut Department of Corrections (DOC) prisoners via newspaper accounts of the suicides; another prisoner subsequently died while being transported to a CDOC mental health ward. Connecticut P&A determined it had probable cause to believe each of the prisoners were mentally ill, and they were subject to abuse and neglect.

Connecticut P&A requested the DOC's records on the prisoners. The DOC advised Connecticut P&A they would be contacted at the end of the investigations into the deaths. DOC later refused to provide the records on grounds there was no probable cause of neglect or abuse and the prisoner's next of kin had not authorized release of the records. Connecticut P&A sued for access to the records under the Protection and Advocacy for Mentally Ill Individuals Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 10801-10827 (PAMII) and § 1983. PAM II allows the P&A to determine when probable cause exists to receive records for persons who are mentally ill, and no other authority may question or re-examine the determination that probable cause exists once made by the P&A.

In order to receive the requested records of each prisoner, he must "not have a legal guardian, conservator, or other legal representative." The DOC argued it must be shown the prisoners had no such person to protect their interests. The Court, however, held this burden was on the DOC, and that if such a person existed their name had to be provided to the P&A. Nonetheless, the Court held that under Connecticut law, the deceased prisoners could not have had a conservator or legal guardian.

The Court granted Connecticut P&A's motion for summary judgment and enjoined and restrained the CDOC from declining to give timely access to the records in question. See: Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities v. Armstrong, 266 F.Supp.2d 303 (D. Conn. 2003).

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