Cathy Osten


Cathy Osten



March 28, 2022

Sen. Osten Testifies in Support of Her Inmate Mental Health Bill

State Senator Cathy Osten (D-Sprague) told the legislature’s Judiciary Committee today that Connecticut needs to improve its mental health screening and treatment of inmates, including securing proper mental health treatment for certain inmates after release if they are to successfully reintegrate back into society.

Sen. Osten made her remarks at a public hearing in support of her Senate Bill 458, “An Act Concerning the Provision of Substance Use Disorder Services and Mental Health Services to Individuals Who are Incarcerated.” The bill calls for the state Department of Correction (DOC) commissioner and others to make written recommendations by January 1, 2023 for improving mental health and substance abuse treatment among Connecticut’s approximately 9,800 inmates.

“I believe that we need to strengthen our mental health assessments and reporting mechanisms in order to properly treat former inmates upon release and reduce the rate of recidivism across Connecticut,” Sen. Osten said.

Sen. Osten started working on her bill last year after she requested a review by the Connecticut Sentencing Commission concerning inmate mental health. The Sentencing Commission’s review found that more than 80% of incarcerated females and more than a quarter of male inmates reported some form of mental illness.

“Based upon my experience as a former correction officer, I believe the percentage of male inmates is artificially low because male inmates are less likely to self-report any mental health concerns,” Sen. Osten told Judiciary Committee members. She served in the Correction Department for 21 years, first as a corrections officer and then as a lieutenant.

When inmates are first admitted or transferred to a DOC facility, they undergo a health screening process. As part of this screening, inmates who meet certain criteria are referred for a mental health evaluation. The Connecticut DOC has five mental health classifications: Individuals classified at Levels 1 and 2 have no mental health history or current need, and they may be characterized as emotionally stable, or they may have a history of a mental health disorder that is not currently active or needing treatment by a professional.

But Levels 3, 4 and 5 are more severe.

  • About 24.5% of the overall inmate population (21% of men and 76% of women) are categorized as having a Level 3 mental health issue. This is a mild or moderate mental health disorder (or severe mental disorder that is under good control) and the person may or may not be on psychotropic medication. This includes individuals with chronic schizophrenia or bipolar disorder who are compliant with medications and may have periodic psychotic exacerbations requiring hospitalization, yet they are able to function in a general population setting. It also includes individuals with major depression who may have a history of suicidal behavior and need supportive services and/or medications and may require periodic hospitalizations and individuals with personality disorders (i.e. borderline personality disorder) who require supportive services and crisis intervention to prevent self-mutilation or suicidal gestures. These inmates must meet with a qualified mental health professional at least once a month.
  • About 3.6% of the overall inmate population (3% of men and 9% of women) are categorized as having a Level 4 mental health issue. This is a mental health disorder severe enough to require specialized housing or ongoing intensive mental health treatment; individuals are usually on psychotropic medications. This population includes individuals with chronic schizophrenia or bipolar disorders with frequent psychotic exacerbations who need medication and assistance with activities of daily living; individuals with borderline personality disorder with frequent suicidal gestures or episodes of self-mutilation, who, due to chronic mood instability and impulsiveness, require daily contact and support; and intellectually disabled individuals in need of assistance with activities of daily living and self-care. These inmates must meet with a qualified mental health professional at least once a week.

  • About fourth-tenths of 1 percent of the overall inmate population (0.3% of men and 1% of women) are categorized as having a Level 5 mental health issue. This is a crisis-level mental disorder that requires 24-hour nursing care. This includes individuals with acute psychosis, severe depression, suicidal ideation, suicidal gestures or attempts, and overwhelming anxiety who are actively suicidal or self-mutilating and who require a suicide watch, 15-minutes watch, or one-to-one monitoring. These inmates are under the continuous care of mental health care staff.

The deadline for Judiciary Committee action on bills is Monday, April 4.

The complete June 24, 2020 “Memorandum on Mental Health Care Need Classifications in Connecticut’s Incarcerated Population” can be found at: