When New York City changed mayors in November 2013, critics wondered how mayor elect Bill de Blasio would adapt the budget to his concerns. de Blasio received 73 percent of the vote to win in a landslide, so hopes were high for his visions for New York City’s future. It appears that with regards to mental health care, de Blasio has not disappointed. He recently set aside $32.5 million of the city’s budget for corrections mental health – increasing treatment availability to mentally ill inmates of the New York City Department of Correction, the New York Daily News reported.
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According to the New York City Independent Budget Office, the city jails approximately 12,000 inmates during the average year, but de Blasio has made it clear that the conditions mentally ill inmates live under are no longer tolerable under his administration. The new mayor earmarked a chunk of the $75 billion budget to pay for nurses, four brand new observation units that could hold as many as 40 patients at a time and more comprehensive treatments for prisoners in need.
“This budget shows New York City is serious about safer jails and better management of the growing percentage of mentally ill people in custody,” Joe Ponte, commissioner of the NYC Department of Correction, told the New York Daily News. “Our goal is to bring down violence.”
Rikers Island, the city’s most notable correctional facility, recently experienced a stretch of violence that saw 20 inmates injured by slash wounds. The jail’s troubles are not unique, as the Bureau of Justice Statistics explained that almost 73 percent of females and 55 percent of males in prisons at the state level exhibit signs of mental illnesses. However, only one in three prisoners receive treatment for their conditions.
Because prisoners at the state level often receive shorter sentences, the chances of recidivism after release increase without proper care for their conditions. Part of the money will go toward establish group and individual psychotherapy sessions with inmates to prepare them for transitioning back to normal lives after their sentences. The National Institute of Corrections recommends group therapy sessions as a way of simulating the environment to which inmates are about to return, so they can learn real strategies about dealing themselves and others. As a precaution, the money will also go to funding the construction of a series of locations to house particularly violent prisoners until the proper treatment is administered.
“It’s really going to be about creating a comprehensive intervention treatment approach,” Anthony Waters, acting executive director of mental health, told the NY Daily News.