Lawmaker claims proposed move of ‘worst of the worst’ prisoners is not transparent

Target 12

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — A Cranston lawmaker claims the public has not been informed about the move of dozens of psychiatric patients, known as the forensic population, considered by some the state’s worst of the worst prisoners.

Robert Lancia, a Republican from the district that includes the Adult Correctional Institutions complex, said the first he heard about the move – from the state’s dilapidated psychiatric hospital, Eleanor Slater – was in a Target 12 report earlier this month.

“We haven’t been informed of anything,” Lancia said. “We haven’t been told what’s being done. Who’s being moved there. What kind of security measures and precautions. This is exactly why there should’ve been a community forum prior to anything being done.”

The Training School’s nine-year-old Roosevelt Benton Center was shuttered last summer after violence and vandalism by juvenile offenders. It is now undergoing a $7-million reboot to incarcerate the forensic population.

A Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) spokesperson said privacy laws restrict the agency from releasing the patients’ names, but court records provide at least a partial list.

Christian Lepore, found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 2016 West Greenwich beating death of 62-year-old John O’Neil, is part of the forensic population.

Michael Woodmansee, convicted in 1983 of killing a 5-year-old, committed himself in 2011 when he was eligible for parole.

Matthew Komrowski, awaiting trial for allegedly murdering his former girlfriend and then setting her Cranston apartment on fire the day after he was released from the ACI, is also confined in the 82-year-old Pinel Building.

BHDDH Director Rebecca Boss pointed out Pinel has several issues, and she is confident the Benton Center will be a better option when the project is completed.

“We do need security,” Boss said. “And we have security, and we have the staff in place that know how to work with this population, and that are able to monitor the facility and respond to the crises that might arise.”

A spokesperson for BHDDH also said there was public outreach conducted in the fall of 2017.

Lancia is not the only one who is concerned, however.

R.I. Brotherhood of Correctional Officers President Richard Ferruccio said he has gone face to face with most of the patients, and he is not sure there are enough levels of security in the Benton Center.

“I don’t know if that facility can be hardened enough to protect the residents of Cranston, or the state of Rhode Island for that matter,” Ferruccio said. 

Carolyn Medeiros, executive director of The Alliance for Safe Communities, is worried about the moving process itself as well as the effectiveness of BHDDH policy once the facility is up and running.

“They are criminally insane,” Medeiros said. “They’re going to test boundaries, the boundaries of the structure, the boundaries of the staff.”

The R.I. Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance project is dividing one of the Benton Center wings into two areas, with walls and a nurses’ monitoring station between them.

One set of rooms will hold high-risk patients, and medium-risk individuals will be held in the other.

An assessment unit is nearby to examine patients after they arrive and determine where they should be housed.

At the other end of the building, down a long corridor, there is a wing for low-risk and female patients.

The risk levels involve the patients’ likelihood to injure themselves or someone else. 

Construction is expected to be completed in June.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau

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