Friday, November 21, 2014

To address mental health needs of Rikers inmates, NY should examine state shortage of psychiatric hospital beds

Mayor de Blasio announces mental health reforms at Rikers Island without acknowledging social impact of hospital closings

People with mental health needs end up in jails and prisons, overwhelming law enforcement

Amongst the Rikers Island reforms announced Thursday by Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) was the allocation of $32.5 million to fund mental health and anti-violence efforts. The mayor cited as a cause of challenges at Rikers Island the large number of severely, mentally-ill inmates, who created problems that needed to be "dealt with at their root."

However, public health advocates fault the state and city for allowing the closure of so many hospitals that used to treat people with mental health needs in a healthcare facility instead of allowing people with mental health needs get swept up in the city's dragnet of over-policing that then jails people with mental health needs at Rikers Island.

“We stand ready to take legal action to compel long-overdue reforms at Rikers, if that becomes necessary to get the job done.” — U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara

According to statistics reported in an investigation published last July by The New York Times, "Rikers now has about as many people with mental illnesses — roughly 4,000 of the 11,000 inmates — as all 24 psychiatric hospitals in New York State combined. They make up nearly 40 percent of the jail population, up from about 20 percent eight years ago."

There is a shortage of public hospital beds for people with mental health needs, according to a study by the Treatment Advocacy Center. The study recommended that New York state would need to add over 4,300 hospital beds dedicated to people with psychiatric needs in order to meet minimum standards of care.

In announcing reforms for Rikers Island, Mayor de Blasio never raised the issue of the lack of capacity to provide people with mental health needs minimum standards of care to prevent people with mental health needs from getting swept up in the city's dragnet of over-policing.


Mayor de Blasio promised to get to the root of unsafe conditions at Rikers Island, but he overlooks high social cost of hospital closings (Progress Queens)