April 3, 2019

The Division of Criminal Justice opposes S.B. No. 1112, An Act Concerning Commitment of a Person Found Not Guilty by Reason of Mental Disease or Defect, and respectfully recommends the Committee take NO ACTION on this bill. This legislation includes essentially the same provisions as bills the Division opposed in the last legislative session both in the Joint Committee on Judiciary (S.B. No. 512, 2018 Regular Session) and the Joint Committee on Public Health (S.B. No. 294, 2018 Regular Session).

To reiterate our testimony from last year, Connecticut’s criminal commitment process places the supervision of mentally ill individuals who have committed a crime as a result of their mental illness and been found not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) in the hands of the Psychiatric Security Review Board (PSRB). S.B. No. 1112 proposes unnecessary changes to the policies and procedures of the PSRB and, if enacted, would threaten to seriously undermine the ability of the board to fulfill its critical mission of protecting public safety.

The PSRB was established in statute by the General Assembly in 1985 after a report by the General Assembly’s Law Revision Commission found that many of the individuals found NGRI and committed to the state hospital were discharged to the community without oversight or assurances that the individual would continue with medication or other treatment. The board’s mandate includes both inpatient and outpatient supervision. Connecticut’s civil commitment process does not include outpatient supervision. There is a reason for the difference. Someone who has committed a violent crime as a result of his or her mental illness is a greater danger to the public when out in the community than someone who is simply mentally ill and has not hurt anyone. Before a court or jury can find a person not guilty by reason of insanity, the court or jury must first find beyond reasonable doubt that the person committed all of the elements of the crime charged. Hence, there is a need for the board to have the authority for outpatient supervision.

Many mental illnesses are persistent. They cannot be cured. They generally have to be managed through anti-psychotic medication. Many acquittees need to continue to take these medications for the rest of their lives. If they go off their medication, decompensation generally results in a few weeks. They are then at risk of becoming violent again. If they are out in the community when this occurs and are not being supervised, the public is at risk. The changes proposed in S.B. No. 1112 would allow acquittees to be discharged from the hospital after the expiration of their commitment term with no supervision in the community.  This would inevitably have tragic consequences for some unsuspecting individual who encounters an unsupervised acquittee in a decompensated state.

Who are these acquittees? The overwhelming majority of individuals under PSRB supervision committed violent crimes. The most recent data from the PSRB lists a total of 33 individuals, all but one of whom could potentially be released with no oversight whatsoever should S.B. No. 1112 be adopted. Their crimes include Murder, Manslaughter, Assault in the First Degree, Arson in the First Degree, Sexual Assault in the First Degree, Robbery, Kidnapping and Risk of Injury to a Minor. It is important to note that whether or not the person committed the act for which commitment was ordered is not in question. In an NGRI proceeding the state must first prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime occurred and that the individual committed it before the NGRI finding and subsequent commitment to PSRB can occur.

Continuity of supervision is a key reason not to change the existing system.  The PSRB gets reports on each acquittee every six months and sees each individual at least every two years. The board members include a psychiatrist and a psychologist. The Probate Court judge is neither and in most cases does not have any experience in criminal law. Nor is it likely that judge is going to read the multiple years’ worth of psychiatric reports that would be necessary in order to gain the same degree of familiarity with a given acquittee that the PSRB has. Obviously, it would be far easier to convince a Probate Court to release someone than it is to convince the PSRB. The board’s outpatient supervision authority places it in the best position to ensure violent mentally ill individuals are safely maintained in the community. It is part of the reason the PSRB was created. The system should not be changed.

It also should be noted that it is the defendant who makes the choice whether or not to assert an insanity defense. He or she can choose to accept a definite period of incarceration rather than risk a potentially unknown period of commitment to the PSRB. S.B. No. 1112 would essentially give defendants the opportunity not to go to jail and not to have to stay under the PSRB longer than the maximum sentence for their crimes even if they remain mentally ill and dangerous at the end of their period of commitment. How is this fair to the victims or the public?  An acquittee who is no longer mentally ill and dangerous can always file a petition for discharge in order to be released from commitment. The State has no authority to keep an individual committed unless he meets both of these criteria. The system is fairly balanced.

In conclusion, the Psychiatric Security Review Board was created to protect the public safety and has done an excellent job throughout its history in fulfilling that mission. As such, the Division respectfully recommends the Committee take NO ACTION on S.B. No. 1112. We thank the Committee for affording this opportunity to provide input on this matter and would be happy to provide any additional information the Committee might require or to answer any questions that you might have.