Council Member Elizabeth S. Crowley was appointed to Mayor Bloomberg’s Steering Committee of the Citywide Justice and Mental Health Initiative, Tuesday, Sept. 27. Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda I. Gibbs, Chief Policy Advisor John Feinblatt, and Council Member Elizabeth S. Crowley joined other committee members to 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 also 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.
Currently, about one-third of New York City’s inmates have been diagnosed with some form of mentally illness. Statistics show that these individuals spend more time in jail and have a higher recidivism rate than offenders without mental health diagnoses. 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.
New York City’s jail facilities are the second-largest in the United States and have long-served as a model for other correctional facilities across the country. The findings from this initiative will have a widespread impact on cities and states dealing with similar issues.
Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, Chair of the City Council’s Committee on Fire & Criminal Justice, said: “I want to thank Speaker Christine C. Quinn for the opportunity to work on an initiative that will have a significant impact on our City’s criminal justice system. By gaining a better understanding of how we handle mentally ill offenders we will be able to form policies that both keep New Yorkers safe and more effectively rehabilitate inmates. I look forward to seeing the results of this study and working with the Department of Correction and all of the members of this committee to improve the current system.”
“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.”
“How we care for vulnerable populations, imprisoned or not, says a great deal about us as a society,” said Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “The fact that the number of those imprisoned has decreased while the incarcerated mentally ill population has risen tells us there’s a problem that needs to be addressed head on. This steering committee will explore new practices that will help prevent repeated incarcerations for those suffering from mental illness. I want to thank my Council colleagues Oliver Koppell and Elizabeth Crowley for serving on the committee and Mayor Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Gibbs and everyone on their team for their commitment to improving the City’s criminal justice system.”
“For too many, the criminal justice system is a revolving door, with one out of two mentally ill inmates returning to prison,” said Deputy Mayor Gibbs. “We need to work together across the criminal justice and human services systems to increase public safety, improve supervision and help this special needs population connect to effective community-based health services.”
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.