Behavioral health and criminal justice advocates are praising New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's attempt to help mentally ill people caught in a cycle of arrests and incarceration get treatment instead.
This week, de Blasio unveiled a $130 million, four-year project to address the problem. According to a report from a task force (PDF) de Blasio appointed to study the issue, about 400 people accounted for more than 10,000 jail admissions over a five-year span, with 67% of that group in need of mental health services and almost all identified as having issues with substance abuse.
“For years, the criminal justice system has been the default for dealing with behavioral and mental health issues, but that approach alone does not best serve public health or public safety,” de Blasio said in a statement.
De Blasio's task force, formed in June, included law enforcement, district attorneys, defense lawyers, judges and academics, as well as commissioners from city and state agencies and representatives from the private sector and behavioral health agencies.
“I think if it's fully implemented, it could have a big impact on the criminalization of mental illness,” said Jennifer Parish, director of criminal justice advocacy at the New York-based Urban Justice Center. “I think it's an approach that many advocates have asked for of moving away from just using the criminal justice system as a response to people with mental health issues who are not being well served in the public mental health system and instead looking at a public health response to these problems.”