2011-10-07 / Top Stories

Mentally Ill Population In Prison On The Rise

Mayor Bloomberg announced the first meeting of the Mayor’s Steering Committee of the Citywide Justice and Mental Health Initiative. Led by Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda I. Gibbs and Chief Policy Advisor John Feinblatt, the committee will address the question of why, even as crime has decreased and the jail population has declined, the number of incarcerated mentally ill has risen. Committee members include Department of Correction Commissioner Dora B. Schriro, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Tom Farley, Department of Probation Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi, Health and Hospitals Corp. President Alan Aviles, Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond, and representatives from legal services, community based organizations, district attorneys’ offices and the judiciary.

“For all we’ve accomplished in terms of increasing public health and safety for our most vulnerable populations, more work remains to be done,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “Today’s first meeting, where our health and criminal justice experts will be rolling up their sleeves and dedicating their collective energy to confronting these challenges, is an important step to finding solutions to help these men and women succeed.”

Individuals with mental illness come to jail and return to jail more frequently and spend longer in jail than individuals without a mental health diagnosis, even when the severity of their criminal charges and histories are similar. As a result, one-third of the jail population is now diagnosed as mentally ill. For every two mentally ill inmates released from the Department of Correction, one returns to jail within a year, and when readmitted, remains in jail for nearly three times as long as an offender without a mental health diagnosis.

As part of the as the focus of a farreaching initiative, researchers will use New York City as a model to analyze the path travelled by people with mental illness as they move through the criminal justice system. Through an analysis of data and interviews with staff on the front lines of the criminal justice and health systems, researchers will identify the factors that drive the long length of stay and high rates of readmission among people with mental illnesses. The analysis will lead to practice and policy proposals to ensure these individuals receive the best treatment possible in the continuum of criminal justice and mental health care. At the same time, the State’s Medicaid Redesign Team – of which Deputy Mayor Gibbs is a member and Co-Chair of the Behavioral Health Subcommittee – will be considering substantial reforms to the Medicaid-funded behavioral health care system in New York City. The redesigns will provide opportunities to better coordinate policies, practices and transitions across these systems.

The project, expected to present recommendations by this winter, is being closely watched by state criminal justice officials who also have the same concentration of long-staying mentally-ill inmates in the prisons. New York City’s size as the second-largest jail system in the U.S. is also expected to provide meaningful results for the rest of the country where other cities and states are grappling with the same issues.

The analysis is being conducted by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, a nationally recognized research and policy organization, with the NYC Departments of Correction and Health and Mental Hygiene, and is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Jacob and Valeria Langeloth Foundation. The collaboration also includes the Department of Probation, and other City government and community-based human service providers. State participants include the Governor’s Office and the New York State Office of Mental Health.

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