Correction: NYS Sued for Keeping Prisoners Past Their Release Dates due to Housing Shortage

Correction: We’ve added an italicized portion of the NY Times piece below that was missing in our original posting. The key point in that section is “despite the state’s commitment to build more supportive housing, the creation of units has not kept pace with demand, and existing facilities are struggling to stay open, Ms. Lasicki (Toni Lasicki ED of the Association for Community Living) and other advocates said. State funding “is barely enough to cover the rent,” she said.”

At NYAPRS’ February 26 Annual Albany Legislative Day, we will be pushing for both a 2.9% increase to behavioral health and related nonprofits and a meaningful housing rate increase

NYAPRS Note: The Legal Aid Society and Disability Rights New York have sued New York State for keeping incarcerated individuals with serious mental health conditions in state prisons, including maximum- security facilities, beyond the appropriate release date due to a shortage of community based housing and support services. Contained within the recently released Executive Budget is a critically important reference to the state’s plan to gain the authorization to restart Medicaid 30 days before release, a measure NYAPRS strongly supported when it came before the legislature several years ago.

While this measure would allow New York to be only the 2nd state in the country to fund earlier and more appropriate Medicaid funded discharge services and supports, it will have little meaning if community housing and supports are not in place.  

Mentally Ill Prisoners Are Held Past Release Dates, Lawsuit Claims

By Ashley Southall  New York Times  January 23, 2019

On paper, a 31-year-old man found to have serious mental illnesses was released from a New York state prison in September 2017 after serving 10 years behind bars for two robberies.

But in reality, the man, who asked to be identified by his initials C.J., still wakes up each day inside a maximum-security prison in Stormville. Though he is technically free, he is still confined to a cell because of a Kafkaesque bureaucratic dilemma: The state requires people like him to be released to a supportive housing facility, but there is not one available.

Lawyers for C.J. and five other mentally ill men filed a federal lawsuit in Manhattan on Wednesday seeking to force Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to address a shortage of housing for people with serious mental illnesses who need help adjusting to life outside prison walls.

The men are no longer being held in prison because they committed offenses, their lawyers argue, but because the state has determined they are likely to become homeless once released — a practice they contend amounts to discrimination under federal civil rights laws.

Four of the men, including C.J., have finished their maximum prison sentences and maintain their confinement also violates their constitutional rights to due process and protections against cruel and unusual punishment. The plaintiffs have asked the court to allow them to proceed anonymously because their lawsuit discusses sensitive personal information and they fear retaliation from prison guards.

Corrections records indicate the men are in “residential treatment facilities” — housing where residents are able to move about freely to seek jobs, visit family and pursue educational opportunities.

But the lawsuit says that label, as the state has applied it to 13 prisons, is a fraud, because the men are being held and treated as other prisoners are. They are locked in cells that have room for a bed and a few possessions. They are required to wear inmate uniforms. They cannot receive packages.

“Though labeled ‘releasees,’ they remain prisoners in every respect,” the complaint said.

The state continues to hold the men “because they are unable to secure a community-based mental health housing placement that does not exist due to lack of available beds,” the complaint said. In effect, the state has lengthened their incarceration, “undermining the most basic principle undergirding the criminal justice system: that a criminal sentence, once imposed by a judge, means what it says,” the lawsuit said

The lawsuit, which names the state corrections department and mental health office as defendants, was filed by the Legal Aid Society and Disability Rights New York, who are seeking class-action status on behalf of all inmates held in state prisons beyond their release dates solely because they are waiting to be placed in supportive housing.

It remained unclear on Wednesday how many mentally ill people were being held in prison past their release dates.

Jessica Riley, a spokeswoman for the state Office of Mental Health, declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit, but said the state has “one of the most robust supportive housing networks in the nation for individuals with mental illness,” with about 44,000 units.

C.J. has been diagnosed with bipolar II disorder and antisocial personality disorder, court papers said. As his release date approached, he was enrolled in a re-entry program that was preparing him to be set free in Orange County, where he was looking forward to seeing his daughter for the first time since he went to prison. He had obtained a G.E.D. and a vocational certificate in prison and hoped to get a job.

But the day before he was scheduled to be released, C.J. was transferred to another prison, and later, to the Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville. His mental condition has worsened since his release date passed, and he has been repeatedly placed on suicide watch, according to the lawsuit.

“Every day is hard, very hard,” C.J. said in written responses to questions from The New York Times. “I wake up and I look around and I don’t understand why I am here.”

The lawsuit does not seek an order requiring the six men to be freed. Rather, it asks that the state remove “the only barrier to their release” by creating more supportive housing for mentally ill people being released from prison.

The complaint cites a 1999 Supreme Court ruling in Olmstead v. L.C., which held that public institutions must provide community-based services to people with mental illnesses who need and desire them.

 

For decades since the civil rights movement, public pressure had built on states to take mentally ill people out of psychiatric hospitals and place them in settings where they could participate in society, an effort called “deinstitutionalization.”

 

But over the years, as psychiatric hospitals closed and lawmakers toughened crime and sentencing policies, more people with mental illnesses wound up incarcerated. Though prisons and jails developed treatment programs, few of them were effective, advocates for the mentally ill said.

About 4,000 people receiving mental health treatment in New York State prisons are released each year, and more than half of them have serious disorders like schizophrenia that severely limit their ability to function independently, according to the state Office of Mental Health.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has committed the state to building 20,000 new supportive housing units, and state lawmakers so far have allocated $2.6 billion to create the first 6,000 units by 2021.

But the lawsuit asserts that, under Governor Cuomo, the Office of Mental Health has neglected requests from counties across the state to build additional housing for former prisoners with mental disorders.

Such housing programs, where residents receive psychiatric care and learn skills like cooking and using mass transit, offer opportunities to participate in public life that prisons do not, mental health advocates say.

But waiting lists have grown longer as the state has eliminated beds from its psychiatric hospitals. The roughly 44,000 spaces available for the mentally ill are about half of what is needed, said Antonia Lasicki, the executive director of the Association for Community Living, which represents supportive-housing operators.

Despite the state’s commitment to build more supportive housing, the creation of units has not kept pace with demand, and existing facilities are struggling to stay open, Ms. Lasicki and other advocates said. State funding “is barely enough to cover the rent,” she said.

“So that’s the problem right there in the nutshell,” Ms. Lasicki added. “They’re very underfunded.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/23/nyregion/prisoners-mentally-ill-lawsuit.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/23/nyregion/prisoners-mentally-ill-lawsuit.html

Mentally Ill Inmates Suing Cuomo Over ‘Extended’ Prison Times

By Kaja Whitehouse  New York Post  January 23, 2019

A group of mentally ill prisoners is suing Gov. Cuomo and other state officials, claiming that they have been kept behind bars long past their release dates because the state doesn’t have anywhere to put them.

The Manhattan federal class-action lawsuit says state officials often require that mentally ill prisoners be placed in “community-based housing and supportive services” as a condition of their release. But due to a shortage of the housing and services, the suit says, prisoners across the state are often left to rot behind bars instead of getting sprung.

“M.G.,” 56, says the Parole Board granted him an open release date of May 10, 2017. But “prison staff informed M.G. that he would not be timely released due to a determination that he can be released only to community based mental health housing,” the suit claims. Almost two years later, he’s still at the maximum-security prison in Auburn.

The suit also names the Office of Mental Health, the Department of Corrections and the agencies’ heads.

https://nypost.com/2019/01/23/mentally-ill-inmates-suing-cuomo-over-extended-prison-times/