Where Prison Law Meets Medical Privacy Law
A federal judge in Boston ordered a former contractor for the state prison system yesterday to provide him with the psychiatric treatment records of about 25 inmates who committed or attempted suicide while in solitary confinement from 2005 to 2007.
US Chief District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf gave the University of Massachusetts Correctional Health Program until Aug. 27 to turn over thousands of pages of mental health reviews written by therapists after the suicides and attempts. He wants to determine whether he can legally turn them over to a nonprofit advocacy group that has sued the state over the care of mentally ill inmates.
UMass Correctional Health, which is not a defendant in the suit and is a program of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, contends that federal law requires the records to remain confidential under a privilege between psychotherapists and patients. The only way the privilege can be waived, UMass said yesterday, is if the inmates, or their representatives, give permission to release them.
As I’ve noted before, it’s long been observed that extended isolation yields disastrous mental health effects, and psychiatrists who’ve studied these effects consider long-term solitary confinement to be torture. On this subject, Atul Gawande’s New Yorker article remains a must-read overview.