NH breaks ground on new forensic psychiatric hospital

New $40m, 24-bed facility to meet 'critical unmet need' in prison system
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Gov. Chris Sununu and other state officials at a groundbreaking ceremony for the state’s new forensic psychiatric hospital on Thursday. (Photo by Paul Cuno-Booth)

State officials broke ground on a new forensic psychiatric hospital Thursday, saying it will ultimately bring an end to New Hampshire’s practice of treating civilly committed people within the prison system.

The 24-bed facility, expected to cost roughly $40 million to construct, is going up next to New Hampshire Hospital in Concord. Officials say it will treat people who are found not competent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of mental illness.

It could also house civilly committed patients who need a more secure setting than New Hampshire Hospital, the state’s main mental health facility.

Currently, those patients are sometimes sent to the state prison system’s Secure Psychiatric Unit — an unaccredited facility run by the state Department of Corrections — where they’re commingled with people serving sentences. Mental health advocates have long criticized the practice.

“It’s important to remember that the people we serve are all part of someone’s family – a son, a daughter, a parent or another loved one,” Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Weaver said at Thursday’s ceremony.

She called the forensic hospital a “critical unmet need.”

“For the first time in recent memory, New Hampshire will have a facility dedicated to individuals living with a mental health condition, who are involved in the criminal justice system but have not been convicted of a crime,” she said.

Asked whether the state would continue to send civilly committed individuals to the prison system’s Secure Psychiatric Unit if the forensic hospital filled up, Gov. Chris Sununu said the new hospital is designed with enough capacity to avoid that situation.

“We feel confident that we’ll always be able to fulfill the need, without having to use the former facility – what will be soon the former facilities currently located within the prison system,” he said.

Construction on the project is expected to wrap up in 2025.

This article is being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org. 

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