Nine months after ordering the city to provide treatment and support services to mentally ill inmates as they leave prison, State Supreme Court Judge Richard Braun is entertaining charges that the Giuliani administration has failed to follow his directive.
In court last Wednesday, advocates for the mentally ill argued that between March, when the order went into effect, and June, less than 20 percent of the 297 discharged inmates they surveyed had received any kind of services, and fewer than 2 percent had filed applications for housing. Intrigued by this preliminary data, Judge Braun denied the city’s request for a hearing postponement and began considering the contempt motion.
The plaintiffs–Urban Justice Center, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and Debevoise and Plimpton–not only want the city to provide the needed services, but are also seeking damages totaling $3,345 for each of the approximately 9,000 inmates who were released between March and June 29, the time frame of their survey.
This marks the latest development in Brad H. v. Giuliani, a two-and-a-half-year-old class-action suit that claims the city has failed to provide adequate services to the approximately 30,000 people with psychiatric disabilities who leave New York City jails each year.
To provide the mandated services, the city would need to coordinate between the myriad agencies responsible for the different components of aftercare. To date, there are no cost-estimates for implementing such a plan.
While the judge considers the case–both parties are expected back in court on Wednesday, and then again on January 2–the attorneys for Brad H., a homeless man who’s been incarcerated 29 times and in and out of seven psychiatric institutions, say they could agree to a settlement if the city were amenable. “All we care about is getting services for our clients,” said Heather Barr, a lawyer for the Urban Justice Center.
Their wish list of services go beyond Judge Braun’s order and include access to mental health services, a plan for securing Medicaid or other health insurance, assistance with public benefits applications and stable housing arrangements.
Not surprisingly, the city says these additional orders are much too tall. “There have been settlement discussions and in those discussions, the plaintiffs’ demands were something that we couldn’t agree to,” said Thomas Crane of the city’s corporation counsel. He would not get into details.
At this point, advocates hope the Bloomberg administration will see things differently. “Since Bloomberg is a businessman, he’ll be able to think less about the rhetoric of welfare, and more about whether it’s fiscally wise to deny people services,” speculated Barr, noting that it costs $40,500 a year to keep someone in a psychiatric institution for a year but only $16,300 to give that person supportive housing and services. “You don’t have to be a great humanitarian to see that discharge planning is wise.”