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Commentary By DJ Jaffe

How to Get Mentally Ill New Yorkers off the Street and into Treatment

Cities, Health New York City, Serious Mental Illness

It happened again. And it could have — should have — been prevented.

On July 5, NYPD Officer Miosotis Familia was ambushed and killed by Alexander Bonds, who was in turn killed by responding officers. Bonds was an untreated schizophrenicwith a criminal history. When he started to deteriorate, his girlfriend convinced him to go to St. Barnabus Hospital where he was discharged after just a few hours.

Four days later he assassinated Familia.

We’ve heard this story before. In 2012, Officer Eder Loor was stabbed in East Harlem by Terrence Hale, who also had both a mental illness and a criminal history. Loor was responding to a call for help from Hale’s mother.

In 2014, Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were ambushed while sitting in their police car in Brooklyn by Ismaayil Brinsley — who, again, was mentally ill and had a criminal history.

“Mental-health advocates and politicians claim the mentally ill are not more violent than others. But plenty of research in the United States and elsewhere disputes this...”

In 2012, Bennedy Abreu went off his medications for schizophrenia. A family member called 911 to take him to the hospital where he was discharged after 10 days and later stabbed officers William Fair and Phillip White. Last year, Officer Paul Tuozzolo and Sergeant Emmanuel Kwo were shot in The Bronx by another man who suffered from mental illness with a rap sheet, Manuel Rosales. Tuozzolo died from his wounds.

And that’s just in New York City.

It’s not always the officers in the most danger, however. Often, the bullets fly in the other direction. Police sometimes use deadly force to subdue the mentally ill in order to protect the public. That’s what Sergeant Hugh Barry was trying to do when he shot mentally ill Deborah Danner in 2016.

Mental-health advocates and politicians claim the mentally ill are not more violent than others. But plenty of research in the United States and elsewhere disputes this, especially for those who go off their medications after being released from jail or involuntary commitment. This is the small group government should prioritize for treatment.

Instead, Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio shun them. About 40 percent of those with serious mental illness in New York go untreated. While incarceration is down, the percentage of the incarcerated with serious mental illness in the city jumped 30 percent between 2010 and 2014.

There are solutions. State Sen. Catharine Young believes mentally ill prisoners who are being released from jails and involuntarily committed psychiatric patients who are being released from hospitals should first be evaluated for continued treatment under Kendra’s Law. She’s right.

Kendra’s Law allows courts to order those who have a history of becoming dangerous off treatment to stay in treatment. Studies in New York and around the country show assisted-outpatient treatment reduces homelessness, arrest, incarceration and hospitalization of the seriously mentally ill by 70 percent. Mayor de Blasio claims NYCSafe, his program that focuses resources on those with serious mental illness, does the same thing but has published no data to support the claim — and there are only about 220 individuals in the program.

The Legislature should pass a law requiring mandatory evaluation of mentally ill people coming out of prisons, jails and involuntary commitments and de Blasio should require city prisons and hospitals to do so. Both, unfortunately, opposed such a bill the last time it was proposed.

We also need to improve our overly restrictive laws concerning involuntary commitment. In New York, the seriously mentally ill cannot be hospitalized over their own objections until after they become dangerous. That must change.

And we need to stop closing hospitals. When state hospitals close, as former New Windsor Police Chief Michael Biasotti wrote in 2013, “local psychiatric hospitals become overcrowded. The psychiatrists are put under intense pressure not to admit patients and to discharge those admitted sicker and quicker to free beds for new arrivals. Anyone well enough to walk in and ask for help, is generally not sick enough to be admitted.”

Cuomo and de Blasio don’t seem to agree on much these days. But when it comes to failing the mentally ill, they’re simpatico.

This piece originally appeared in the New York Post


DJ Jaffe is Executive Director of Mental Illness Policy Org., and author of Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill.



This piece originally appeared in New York Post