What to Know
- A lack of mental health housing facilities have left mentally ill inmates incarcerated months past their release dates, a new lawsuit claims
- Legal Aid Society and Disability Rights New York filed a lawsuit Thursday in federal court in Manhattan against numerous state departments
- The lawsuit seeks an injunction requiring New York to create an effective plan for community integration
A lack of community-based mental health housing facilities have left mentally ill inmates incarcerated months past their release dates — including some in solitary confinement, a new lawsuit alleges.
The Legal Aid Society and Disability Rights New York filed a lawsuit Thursday in federal court in Manhattan against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the New York State Office of Mental Health, New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision on behalf of a group New Yorkers with mental illness who allegedly have been held in prison because of a shortage of mental health facilities.
The group filing the lawsuit has either fully completed their sentences or reached their approved parole dates, but remain incarcerated, some for as long as 16 months past their release dates, because “the State has failed to ensure the necessary capacity in community-based mental health housing,” legal aid lawyers and mental health advocates say, adding the inmates then have to “languish in prison, awaiting a placement.”
“It’s shameful that New York State keeps them in prison simply because they have mental illnesses and need supportive housing,” Stefen Short, Staff Attorney with the Prisoners’ Rights Project at The Legal Aid Society, said in a statement. “This is an abhorrent practice, and New York must end it immediately, and provide our clients with the resources to facilitate their release.”
The Legal Aid Society and Disability Rights New York bring this lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
“Our clients are told, often on the day they expect to be released from prison, that they will not be leaving and must stay until community housing is located,” Timothy Clune, Executive Director of Disability Rights New York, said.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction requiring New York to create an effective plan for community integration, which includes developing a sufficient array of community-based mental health housing for these individuals who have been approved for parole or completed their criminal sentences.
In a statement, the Office of Mental Health spokesperson said: "This lawsuit was served to the media before it was served to us, so we can’t comment on its details, however New York funds one of the most robust supportive housing networks in the nation for individuals with mental illness. The State invests close to $500 million annually for community-based housing for adults with serious mental illness including more than 44,000 units of housing statewide. We are currently issuing new requests for proposals to provide up to $12.5 million in annual funding for the operation of 500 additional units of supportive housing for homeless individuals statewide as part of the state’s commitment to develop at least 6,000 units by 2021, with 120 of these new units targeted to individuals being release from incarceration."
On Thursday, the Office of Mental Health plans to issue two new Requests for Proposals that will provide up to $12.5 million in annual funding for the operation of 500 units of supportive housing for homeless individuals and families statewide. These 500 scattered-site supportive housing units will be targeted to homeless individuals who are living with mental illness, with over 20 percent of the units dedicated to individuals leaving the prison system, according to the Office of Mental Health.
The governor's office did not immediately respond to NBC 4's request for comment. The DOCCS referred request for comment to the state's Office of Mental Health.
A previous version of this story inadvertently made reference to the New York City Department of Correction, which was not a party to the lawsuit. The city department, however, declined comment when contacted Jan. 24 in reference to the suit.