Many New Yorkers accused of crimes will be connected with mental health and housing services soon after their first court appearances in an effort to expedite processing, the Manhattan prosecutor said Wednesday.
The $9 million initiative, which will also include community outreach separate from the justice system, will help defendants, some of whom are now waiting weeks or months to access care, said Alvin Bragg, the district attorney. .
Mr Bragg said the program will focus on repeat offenders and “a high-needs population”, with the aim of preventing people from cycling in and out of courts and prisons on Rikers Island.
“Everyone has that person they’ve seen in their neighborhood for years, the one who disappears for a while and always comes back,” he said. “Sometimes these people are at Rikers, our main mental health facility. And we can’t have that. We have to do something different.
The city continues to seek the best way to protect public safety while providing assistance to people with mental health issues. The mentally ill have long lived on the streets and take refuge in the subway, where chance encounters with police and civilians can quickly boil over and sometimes result in serious injury or even death.
NYC Mental Illness Policy
After a string of high-profile crimes involving homeless New Yorkers, the city said it would take aggressive action.
Mayor Eric Adams launched a plan earlier this month that gives police more leeway to evict homeless New Yorkers whose behavior appears to threaten themselves or others and take them to a hospital for treatment. be treated.
That plan was challenged last week in federal court in Manhattan. Advocates for the mentally ill have said the involuntary evictions would violate constitutional rights. On Wednesday, the judge, Paul Crotty, refused to grant their request for a temporary restraining order, but said he would hold hearings into the case in the coming weeks.
Participation in Mr. Bragg’s initiative, unlike the Adams plan, is voluntary. Mr Bragg said on Wednesday his program had been in the works for months and was unrelated to the mayor’s proposal.
The first phase, which will cost about $6 million, will include 36 social workers, who will care for the homeless on the Lower East Side and Chinatown; in Washington Heights and Inwood; Central and East Harlem; Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea and West Midtown. Workers will first help people get basic items like food and clothing, then connect them with behavioral health services and permanent housing.
Community programs in these neighborhoods will each receive approximately $1.4 million in grants to support six months of planning and three years of implementation. Additional funds may also be allocated to other neighborhoods as needed.
In the second phase of the plan, social workers will meet with defendants in Manhattan Criminal Court after their arraignments, the first court hearings where they will hear the allegations against them. Workers can then help defendants obtain clothing, MetroCards and meals, followed by connections to long-term treatment programs and supportive housing. They can also help defendants make sure they don’t miss their court appearances.
Doug Cohen, a spokesman for the district attorney, said there were no set criteria for which defendants could be connected to services. Nonetheless, resources will be directed to individuals who are released into the community. People charged with serious crimes are more likely to be incarcerated as their case progresses.
Mr. Bragg said his office plans to measure the progress of the program in part by monitoring the number of people who actually want to take advantage of these community services. But he said he hopes to expand the program over time by connecting more people to affordable housing and other support services.
The “criminal justice system should not be the primary means of dealing with mental and behavioral health,” he said. “By meeting these human needs, we are meeting the broader needs of public safety.”
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