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In re Commitment of F.H. to Forensic Psychiatric Hospital

Decided: July 23, 1992.

IN THE MATTER OF THE COMMITMENT OF F.H. TO THE FORENSIC PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL


On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, Monmouth County.

Long and R.s. Cohen. The opinion of the court was delivered by Cohen, R.s., J.A.D.

Cohen

The opinion of the court was delivered by

COHEN, R.S., J.A.D.

F.H. was sentenced for a sex crime to a term at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center. Because there was no available bed there, he was temporarily confined as a state prisoner at the Ocean County Jail. After a suicide attempt, F.H. was involuntarily committed, on the application of the acting warden of the jail, to the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Trenton, a state hospital. He remained there until his discharge 42 days later.

The Law Division Judge ordered that a $10,454.64 lien be placed on F.H.'s property for his care at the full rate charged at the hospital. The order also assessed J.H., F.H.'s wife, a noncumulative contribution of $803.88 toward F.H.'s care, at the rate of $19.14 per day for 42 days. F.H. and J.H. appealed, arguing that only the Department of Corrections had the obligation to pay the bill for F.H.'s stay at the psychiatric hospital. We agree, and therefore reverse.

There are two statutes that apparently bear on the subject. The first is N.J.S.A. 30:4-7, which was adopted in 1918, and which permits the Department of Corrections

to place any [prison] inmate in any hospital for such medical or surgical treatment as may be necessary, which cannot properly and adequately be rendered within the institution, and to pay for the care, maintenance and

treatment of such persons, the approval of the commissioner [of the Department of Corrections] first having been obtained.

The phrase "medical or surgical treatment" in N.J.S.A. 30:4-7 must be read to include psychiatric treatment. The immediately following statutory sections, N.J.S.A. 30:4-7.1, -7.2, and -7.3, were adopted in 1969. They all deal with the authority of the chief executive officer of state and county penal institutions and institutions for the mentally ill and mentally retarded to consent to "medical, psychiatric, surgical and dental treatment" for incompetents and minors. The quoted phrase deals with much the same subject matter as the immediately preceding N.J.S.A. 30:4-7, and must be viewed as a recent updating of the 1918 statutory phrase "medical or surgical treatment."

Our view of the legislative intent is confirmed by McCorkle v. Smith, 100 N.J. Super. 595, 242 A.2d 861 (App.Div.1968), whose facts preceded the 1969 amendments. In McCorkle, we concluded that the Department of Corrections had the authority under N.J.S.A. 30:4-7 to transfer a prison inmate to a state mental hospital when the need arises. We did not directly deal with the issue of payment, but we did describe the statutory scheme as contemplating mental care transfers "at the expense of the State." Id. at 599, 242 A.2d 861. Additionally, if the authority to transfer an inmate to a mental hospital for psychiatric treatment arises from N.J.S.A. 30:4-7, then so does the authority to pay for the care. The "approval of the commissioner" mentioned by the statute is both for placement of the inmate in the hospital and for payment of the charges. The legislative language does not contemplate approval for placement but not for payment.

The Department of Human Services seeks to avoid McCorkle by distinguishing between "transfer" and "commitment" of an inmate to a hospital for psychiatric care. There is no such difference. Whether described as a transfer or a commitment, the mechanism is one initiated by the prison authorities to require hospitalization for psychiatric ...


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