June 25 An Invitation For Sharing Efforts for Change

NYAPRS News: With the support of NYAPRS and other advocacy groups the Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement (MHASC) invites people who have survived incarceration and/or the public mental health system, their family members, criminal justice and mental health advocates, and other concerned New Yorkers to come together to discuss how we can prevent people with mental health issues from being incarcerated and improve mental health care for those who are incarcerated. We encourage individuals involved in efforts to transform the criminal injustice system – from changes to bail to improved reentry services – to share how your campaign addresses the needs of people with mental health challenges. Join MHASC on Monday, June 25 at 6 p.m. at the Legal Aid Society, 199 Water Street in Manhattan or by teleconference. More information and a teleconference number to follow!

RSVP to JJ at jparish@urbanjustice.org  Will you attend the meeting in person or by teleconference. If you know an individual who shares these concerns please invite them. We look forward to talking to with you on June 25th.

MHASC members, friends, families and advocates are eager to come up with a strategy to create positive changes for people with mental health issues through collaboration across the state. More information about MHASC is below.

Background on MHASC

MHASC was founded in 2002 by a coalition of advocates, family members, formerly incarcerated individuals, mental health service providers, and other caring individuals. At that time, incarcerated individuals with serious mental illness were routinely housed in solitary confinement where they suffered horribly and their psychiatric conditions deteriorated with far too frequent tragic outcomes. On March 21, 2002, a meeting in Albany gathered these individuals from across the state to brainstorm about what was necessary to address the horrific lack of mental health treatment in our state prisons. The goals set at that first MHASC meeting were to create an active coalition that would pursue corrective action through education, legislation, and litigation.

MHASC contributed greatly to the movement to bar individuals with serious mental illness from solitary confinement. The three-pronged effort of education, legislation, and litigation influenced the development of new and expanded treatment programs in the prisons and the passage of a law to limit the placement of people with serious mental illness in solitary confinement (known as the SHU Exclusion Law), which went into effect on July 1, 2011. MHASC has continued to advocate with the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), Office of Mental Health (OMH), and the NYS Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs as well as with legislators for improved prison mental health treatment.

Current MHASC Concerns

It is again time to convene a statewide meeting with a focus on mental health care in jails and prisons for reasons including:

  • Self-Harm and Suicides in Solitary Confinement and in the Residential Mental Health Treatment Units: The level of self-harm raises grave concerns about the lack of care and the lack of clinical intervention to address obvious signs of psychiatric crisis and need.
  • Overly Punitive Responses to Symptomatic Behaviors: There is an overuse of disciplinary sanctions in residential mental health treatment units including precluding people from participating in out-of-cell programming. The Residential Mental Health Units, which are supposed to function as alternatives to solitary confinement, remain punitive and inhospitable – they are not a therapeutic alternative to isolation as required by law.
  • Lack of Treatment Services in General Population: Many people with mental illness including serious treatment needs in the general population are not provided with adequate treatment services to remain in the integrated setting of general population. Rather than recognize the need for services – by expanding treatment availability and expanding programs for individuals with mental illness – there are wait lists, lack of program space, and a lack of individualized responses.
  • Use of Cell Shields: Cell shields continue to be used against individuals with severe mental illness for excessively long periods of time without clinical intervention.
  • Lack of Adequate Discharge Planning: Individuals continue to be released to the community without housing and connections to treatment, public benefits, and other needed supports.
  • Barriers to Family Involvement in Treatment Planning: Families have great difficulty communicating with mental health staff about their incarcerated loved ones.
  • Lack of Monitoring of Care: The Justice Center does not provide monitoring that qualitatively assesses whether people are receiving therapy and programming in settings appropriate to their clinical need and based on clinical assessments.
  • Failure to Provide Full and Accurate Public Reporting: The Justice Center reports lack detail, fail to provide recommendations for improved treatment, and do not serve to inform the public of the operations of these public institutions.

These gaps in access to treatment and adequate oversight result in the same tragic and painful outcomes that brought us together in 2002. We must hold New York State agencies and the legislature accountable for addressing these needs.