PT: NYC to Spend $90M on Two Diversion Centers for People in MH Crisis

NYAPRS Note: Building on a robust program to train NYC police officers in crisis intervention team approaches, the City is making a major commitment to a critical element in the prison/jail diversion continuum. Police officers who have been trained to defuse rather than escalate crises need to be afforded options to bring people to help address those crises. Philadelphia has been a national exemplar for this approach.

City to Spend $90M on Two Diversion Centers for Mentally Ill
By Dan Goldberg Politico May 11, 2017

The de Blasio administration is ready to open two diversion centers, an option for mentally ill people who do not pose a public safety threat as an alternative to hospital or jail.

The administration plans to award Project Renewal a 10-year, $44 million contract and Samaritan Daytop Village a 10-year, $46 million contract to run the diversion centers, according to a notice in the City Record.

"Diversion centers will be utilized to redirect people with behavioral health issues who have an interaction with police, but who pose no community risk, to community-based services in lieu of arrest and prosecution," the City Record says.

Diversion centers were first recommended in late 2014 by the Mayor’s Task Force on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System, which aimed to reduce the number of people with behavioral health problems in the criminal justice system.

The project though appears to have taken on new urgency as Mayor Bill de Blasio recently endorsed a 10-year timeline to close Rikers Island, which has effectively become the city's largest mental health ward.

In 2015, the task force released a report saying 38 percent of inmates on Rikers Island — about 4,000 people — suffered from a mental illness, up from 29 percent five years earlier.

There has been a growing realization that mental health services inside the jail are inadequate to meet the needs of inmates, leaving many to be abused by other prisoners or staff.

Chirlane McCray, who has made mental health her primary cause as the city's first lady, told Jezebel in 2016 that closing Rikers was a "great idea" and that diversion centers were an important part of the city’s strategy so that people “can actually get the treatment that they need instead of ending up in jail where they don’t belong.”

Closing Rikers is a long and complicated process. De Blasio has said the ultimate timeline for shuttering the facility will depend on reductions in the inmate population.

The diversion centers have also been part of de Blasio’s answer to a perception that police officers are too quick to arrest, hit, tase and even shoot people who need mental health help.

The NYPD has trained thousands of officers over the last few years to recognize the signs of mental illness and these diversion centers are supposed to be where officers will take people, a place that has the space and resources to deal with their needs.

The de Blasio administration declined to comment on this story.

A public hearing on the two contracts will be held May 24 in Long Island City.
Gloria Pazmino contributed to this report.