By Nancy West, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Kevin “Kelly” Gearhart has asked Judge Marguerite Wageling for a quick ruling on Gearhart’s claims that the Secure Psychiatric Unit doesn’t provide appropriate mental health care hoping a decision will also help other patients and inmates.
Gearhart, 52, who is transitioning from male to female at the Secure Psychiatric Unit at the men’s prison, has a separate hearing in Manchester on Wednesday seeking to vacate her not guilty by reason of insanity plea. If a judge accepts that motion, Gearhart believes she will be released to the community as part of a plea deal and Judge Wageling’s decision could become moot.
Gearhart wants Judge Wageling to rule on her claims in Merrimack County Superior Court that besides not getting care for gender transitioning and depression, she is also abused and harassed as are other patients. Gearhart’s motion claims holding patients in SPU is unconstitutional and asks that she be moved to the New Hampshire Hospital, the state’s psychiatric hospital, where Gearhart is already on the waiting list.
“It’s unconstitutional for the Department of Mental Health to put people in SPU,” Gearhart said. “Patients in the SPU although not convicted are subject to DNA collection. Patients like the felons are subjected to shackles, tasers, strip searches and extended segregation,” Gearhart said in her Merrimack County Superior Court motion. She filed a similar complaint in federal court.
The Secure Psychiatric Unit is under the direction of the Department of Corrections, on the grounds of the state prison for men and staffed by corrections officers. It has been the focus of controversy for years as advocates say mentally ill people who haven’t been convicted of a crime shouldn’t be held at state prison.
“It’s a sham,” Gearhart said in a telephone interview. “I just want to get out of here and get the treatment I need on the streets. Here I feel like killing myself every other day.”
She is worried Judge Wageling won’t decide her motion, which Gearhart argued in Merrimack County Superior Court on March 9. When she filed the motion, Gearhart had hoped other patients and inmates would benefit if Judge Wageling finds in her favor.
Gearhart said she expects on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. that Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson, who originally accepted her not guilty by reason of insanity plea in December of 2016, to take vacate it and allow Gearhart to plead guilty instead to the criminal charges of receiving stolen property, escape and attempted theft. Those criminal charges were dropped when Gearhart was civilly committed for five years as being not guilty by reason of insanity.
Gearhart said her public defender and prosecutor will propose a plea deal that includes a suspended sentence of 1 to 3 years and one year of supervision, but it will be up to Judge Abramson to decide.
Deb Robinson, the administrator of the Secure Psychiatric Unit, testified at the March 9 hearing that Gearhart gets appropriate psychological treatment from a trained team. She also receives hormone treatments and is assigned women’s underwear, Robinson said.
Robinson said Gearhart doesn’t always take advantage of the groups available to her, but Gearhart said that is because of threats from other inmates and patients. Robinson acknowledged that there had been some animosity, but each incident had been addressed.
Gearhart told Judge Wageling that she is not medicated for severe attention deficit disorder and hasn’t been taken to the prison yard and rarely goes to the gym because the recreational therapist position is unfilled.
Corrections officer don’t understand transgender people and make fun of her and call her names, Gearhart said.
“This leads me to be locked in my cell,” Gearhart said. “The officers throw my property away. The COs are not trained. I’m called a faggot. I’m called a bitch,” Gearhart said.
“I should be transferred to the state hospital. This is not a therapeutic environment. It’s like level 6 super max confinement,” Gearhart said.