Bill would make changes to psychiatric facilities, families of victims concerned

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (WTNH) – As lawmakers gear up to pass legislation in the final days of the legislative session, one bill is moving forward with bipartisan support to address mental health issues. But, there’s a red flag in it that comes up for families of certain victims.

In 1989, 9-year-old Jessica Short was practically best friends with her then 11-year-old uncle Andy.

“We were very close,” said Andrew Reynolds.

But their worlds flipped upside down that summer. Jessica was stabbed over 30 times in Middletown by David Peterson, a patient who escaped from the local psychiatric hospital. He was later found not guilty by reason of insanity.

But 33 years can’t quell the pain of something that traumatizing.

“When you see your sister go through something like that,” Reynolds said.

After complaints of patient abuse and other issues, state lawmakers are looking to create a whole new psychiatric facility and make changes to Whiting where Peterson is still a patient, and to Connecticut Valley Hospital.

The Senate advanced a bill to do that on Friday.

“The bill has a lot of good to it, but there’s a lot of ifs involved with it,” Reynolds said.

Jessica’s family has concerns that the bill makes it harder to be notified should a dangerous patient move out of maximum security and ultimately into society. Senator Saud Anwar is a sponsor of the bill, along with Senator William Petit. He says public safety is paramount and families will know if a patient leaves maximum and moves to low security, but what happens after that is what Jessica’s family is worried about.        

“This is not by any means a completion of the work. This is just the beginning of it. There’s a plan for a new facility. The current is not suitable for rehab, treatment, or workforce. All those need to be addressed,” Senator Anwar said.

“This will be a continued effort to see what will go on with Whiting and CVH,” Reynolds said.

The Senate advanced the bill with bipartisan support. The House is expected to take it up Monday or Tuesday.

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