Rikers is not a Prescription for Mental Illness: NYC efforts to reform mental health in correctional facilities


The heinous deaths of two inmates with schizophrenia, one from hyperthermia, the other from self-inflicted wounds, in NYC Rikers Island Correctional facility led to an investigation in 2014, by the US Justice Department, which found a series of preventable abuse and deaths to the mentally ill.

RICK NEASE, MCT/DETROIT FREE PRESS , Ab Jail is no place for the mentally ill

RICK NEASE, MCT/DETROIT FREE PRESS , Ab Jail is no place for the mentally ill

Subsequently, NYC Mayor’s office in collaboration with other agencies and community organizations developed the Task Force on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System and action plan to address violence and mental health reform at Rikers Island Correctional facility. Approximately 30-40% of inmates have mental health illness and the prevalence is as high as 70% in those with high recidivism.

NYC task force on Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice reform

The proposed action plan requires institutional and citywide policies and procedural changes among various agencies including NYPD, correctional officers and health agencies to improve behavioral health services. Recent policy changes on table include Intro 440-A , which requires the NYC Department of Health ( DOHMH) to monitor and report on mental health services provided in the city’s correctional facilities, a policy for the mentally ill to be diverted to a more appropriate therapeutic setting, reduce solitary confinement and a bill that will implement a Crisis Intervention Unit

As health advocates, we want to continue to pressure NYC city council and mayor’s office to prioritize and swiftly implement legislation and policy changes to improve mental health among inmates. We need to change a culture that still institutionalize the sick , but this is an essential start.


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2 Responses to “Rikers is not a Prescription for Mental Illness: NYC efforts to reform mental health in correctional facilities”

  1. Mahmoud Hassan Says:

    Thank you for sharing the post. it is very interesting subject.

    One of the leading causes of death among prisoners is Suicide .
    Generally, self-harm is very common in jail. I assume that the probability of self- harm in inmates is higher among incarcerated or who are mentally ill.

    Inmates who have mental illness and who violated jail rules needs to be incarcerated in a clinical settings, not to be put in solitary confinement as they will Harm themselves.

    Instead of punching Mentally ill inmates, they need to be approached by a clinical staff to be treated.

  2. ddelpoz1 Says:

    The death of the two inmates is unfortunate. However, it appears their deaths were not in vein as they have promoted an investigation which has uncovered long overdue assessment needs in the area of mental health/ medical attention among the prison population, starting in Rikers. The development of the Task Force on Behavioral Health is a step in the right direction in addressing this important issue; so is the proposal of Intro 440. This legislation addresses major gaps in the identification of mental health and medical conditions and their placement in appropriate facilities and provides the basis for improved mental health and medical care delivery practices in the correctional facility – necessary changes in ending the inappropriate treatment (physical, mental, emotional) of individuals suffering from mental health illnesses.

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