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Statement from the Katal Center on Today’s City Council Budget Hearing on Mental Health

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Contact:  Yonah Zeitz, yonah@katalcenter.org | (347) 201-2769

Follow on Twitter @KatalCenter | #ShutRikers | #CutShutInvestNY

Statement from the Katal Center on the Joint Budget Hearing Held by the New York City Council Committee on Health and the Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction

New York, NY: Today, the New York City Council Committee on Health and the Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction held a joint Budget and Oversight Hearing on the Fiscal Year 2025 Preliminary Budget. Rikers has become the city’s largest mental health facility. More than 50 percent of people incarcerated there have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, and 20 percent have a severe mental health diagnosis. Yet, they have little or no access to meaningful care while they are locked up at Rikers. Last month, Katal member Danielle Shanks spoke with News 12 about the inadequate mental health care incarcerated people face at Rikers and other city jails.

Statements from a member of the Katal Center

Kevin Valentine, a member at the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice: “Everyone in our society deserves access to mental health care. Having that access could prevent so many individuals from cycling into the carceral system in the first place. I know that it would have helped me tremendously with my situation to have someone to talk to and help me cope with what I was going through before coming into contact with the criminal legal system. My life could have certainly turned out so differently. Rikers Island has no business being the city’s largest mental health facility. 

In 2017, I spent one day at Rikers before being transferred to the Brooklyn detention jail. I immediately noticed that the staff at Rikers were not at all concerned with the well-being of those incarcerated there. This is undoubtedly still the case now. Correctional officers are not healthcare experts and therefore do not know how to deal with the ever-growing population of incarcerated individuals who need mental health care. Correctional officers do not have the training to de-escalate an altercation, and can make things worse for everyone. It is not a matter of being punitive or just giving people medication. It is about having someone to talk to and help you cope with whatever is going on. We know that when a person feels isolated, there is a great chance of them acting out, and it is detrimental. The mental health system in NYC is highly flawed. 

In my everyday commute I see so many New Yorkers who are struggling and need help. Just the other day, there was a person who had a mental outburst and needed assistance. The transit police were upstairs, but I knew that they would not know how to address the situation correctly, and they would likely escalate the situation. It was a catch-22. What we need now more than ever is to invest in mental health rather than putting more money into the Department of Correction and the NYPD. This will, in turn, make us less reliant on the carceral system and get us closer to shutting down Rikers.”

Background:

At Rikers, violence is out of control. At least 30 people have died in city jails since Mayor Adams took office. The dysfunction and mismanagement of the jails and the Department of Correction has intensified under Adams. The Mayor’s current “jail-first” approach to the crisis at Rikers is centered on sending more low-income, Black, and brown New Yorkers to cages there, subjecting them to dangerous and life-threatening conditions. The jail population is now over 6,200, and there were about 5,000 people in city jails when Adams became mayor. The Adams administration is planning for the city’s jail population to go up to 7000 this year – adding another 800 people to the city’s jail population. This will, using the Comptroller’s figures, cost nearly half a billion dollars. All while the Mayor is proposing deep cuts to essential programs across the city – including mental health services, legal services, summer youth employment, homelessness services, housing, libraries, universal 3K, and much more. This will have a detrimental effect on the most marginalized communities, especially those suffering from mental health conditions, in the city.

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