In New York City, tens of thousands of people who are routinely and repeatedly being sent to jail will soon be diverted for mental illness and substance-use disorders treatment, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio. His $130 million four-year reform program is intended to screen out nonviolent defendants with behavioral disorders and divert them away from jail and into treatment or supervised release programs.
Following the recommendations of a task force convened to investigate the findings of an Associated Press series on conditions at New York’s jail complex at Riker’s Island, Mayor de Blasio has instituted a program aimed at helping troubled repeat offenders who have been jailed for minor offenses because it was believed that “there was nowhere else to put them.” The task force found that “at every point, the criminal justice system has become the default for addressing the problems presented by people with behavioral health issues, whether at arrest, arraignment, confinement, or in the neighborhood.”
Describing the problems as “decades in the making—that’s how broken our system was”—de Blasio pointed to the fact that the number of those jailed with mental problems has soared from 24% in 2007 to 40% today, out of a total of roughly 11,000 jail inmates on any given day, of whom fully 85% suffer from substance use disorders. Per the task force, one-third of all New York inmates suffer from serious illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and are more likely to be both perpetrators and victims of jail violence.
The changes will start in the streets of New York, where all police officers will be trained in how to identify and interact with people who have behavioral disorders, and where these police encounters will be monitored. Next fall, drop-off centers will open in which “low-level offenders” can access services ranging from withdrawal detox to psychotherapy. Police training in this area will follow the three-day intensive retraining program that de Blasio has just announced as a requirement for all 22,000 New York City police officers in light of the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, at the hands of several policemen.
Image via TIME.