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Mentally ill inmate had to sing 'I'm a Little Teapot,' other allegations revealed at hearing

Patriot-News - 10/12/2018

Oct. 12--HARRISBURG -- The chief psychologist at a Pennsylvania state prison targeted by a U.S. Department of Justice investigation over the use of solitary confinement could be facing a license suspension or revocation.

James Harrington, who had been the chief psychologist at the now-closed Cresson state prison and has since been promoted to the regional psychological manager of the state Department of Corrections, is in the middle of a disciplinary hearing through the Pennsylvania Department of State this week.

Thursday was the third day of the hearing for Harrington, whom attorneys for the state say presided over the prison's mental-health functions during a time when three mentally ill inmates committed suicide within a 14-month time frame and at least two others were denied the proper mental-health treatment.

These are allegations Harrington denies and is fighting.

It started when the U.S. Department of Justice opened its statewide investigation into the use of solitary confinement on prisoners with serious mental illness and intellectual disabilities in May 2013 after finding a pattern of constitutional violations as well as violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act at the State Correctional Institution in Cresson, Cambria County.

The federal report found what it called "grossly inadequate mental health treatment" at Creeson and showed numerous prisoners suffered harm after prolonged periods of solitary confinement. This included mentally ill inmates.

After working in cooperation with Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to conduct an intensive review of prisons across the state, on Feb. 24, 2014, the department notified the state DOC that the same violations discovered at Cresson were present across the system.

In closing the investigation, the Justice Department said that the state Department of Corrections demonstrated its commitment to reforming its use of solitary confinement.

After the report was issued, the Pennsylvania Department of State began its own investigation, leading to the disciplinary hearing, which could end in the suspension or revocation of Harrington's license to practice and possible civil penalties.

According to the order to show cause filed by prosecuting attorney Heather McCarthy, the disciplinary hearing stems from cases at the Cresson prison involving five particular inmates.

Court documents spell out the allegations as follows:

One inmate, identified in the report as T.P., was housed in the Secure Special Needs Unit at the prison in 2010 and 2011. He had an IQ of 70 and was diagnosed with schizophrenic affective disorder and antisocial personality disorder.

But he was made to sleep in a restrictive prison smock on a floor without bedding, was denied toilet paper, had the water turned off to his cell and was made to sing "I'm a Little Teapot" with the accompanying gestures during a mental-health assessment meeting in which Harrington was present, the documents say.

Other psychologists on staff reported these and other abuses to Harrington, who failed to investigate further or intervene to change the way corrections officers dealt with T.P., according to the prosecutor.

Similarly, inmate C.B., whom a psychiatrist recommended undergo psychotherapy regularly, was denied regular access to those sessions by Harrington. Harrington continued to recommend "only routine contact" with counselors against a psychiatrist's recommendation, even when C.B. exhibited signs of severe mental illness, such as threatening to kill Harrington, covering himself in feces, and attempting to commit suicide by hanging, the documents allege.

Another inmate, J.M., committed suicide by hanging himself in his single cell restrictive housing unit in May 2011. During his two months at Cresson, he made numerous suicide threats and attempts, but Harrington never personally assessed or interacted with him, according to the prosecutor's filing.

In a review of this suicide death, Harrington inaccurately denied having any mental-health concerns about J.M., according tot he prosecutor.

Another inmate, J.W., was seriously mentally ill, which the psychology ward failed to address before his suicide in March 2012.

And inmate B.P., who had a complicated diagnosis that included bipolar and antisocial personality disorders and addiction issues, had attempted suicide in the past and reported feeling depressed and anxious.

He told a psychiatrist he did not think his medications were working and that he would benefit from one-on-one counseling, but 11 days later he hanged himself in his single-person cell in the restrictive housing unit. Harrington wrote in a report that this suicide was neither foreseen nor preventable, according to the prosecutor's filing.

Harrington's role as a supervisor of three psychologists was called into question, too, in court documents that say they were targeted for reprisal after they expressed concerns about the treatment of some of the inmates.

Attorneys for the Department of State say Harrington's license should be suspended or revoked and he should face civil penalty over a failure of his duties to the inmates and those under his supervision.

In a response, Harrington's attorney, Allan Tepper, denied the state's allegations against his client.

The hearing is expect3ed to continue Friday and beyond.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Amy Worden said the department is aware of the proceedings and is monitoring the case.


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