Enforce Kendra’s Law to save more lives


NY Daily News Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The mother of Terrence Hale called 911 Tuesday about her mentally ill son who was off his medications and acting out.
When Officer Eder Loor arrived to help, Hale stabbed him .
On Easter Sunday, Bennedy Abreu’s mother called police about her mentally ill son, who was also off medications and barricaded in the apartment. When Officers William Fair and Phillip White of the 50th Precinct knocked on the door, Abreu opened it and lunged at them with a knife.

Why are so many seriously mentally ill people being allowed to deteriorate and become violent, putting themselves and the public at risk? Why has the mental health system turned over care of the mentally ill to the police, making their already dangerous job even more dangerous?
Who’s to blame? I nominate Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn), chairman of the Assembly Mental Health Committee. Back in 1999, New York State politicians came together and passed Kendra’s Law, named after Kendra Webdale, who was pushed in front of a train to her death by a schizophrenic man.
Kendra’s Law allows courts to order very seriously mentally ill patients who have a history of violence or incarceration to accept violence-preventing treatment as a condition of living in the community.
Courts can also order the recalcitrant mental health system to provide treatment to these seriously mentally ill people .
Kendra’s Law, when it’s been used, has reduced dangerous behavior, violence, incarceration, homelessness and suicide. It has saved money and improved the quality of life for those living with serious mental illness.
So what’s the problem? Kendra’s Law is rarely used. Fewer than 2,000 seriously mentally ill people are covered by Kendra’s Law because the mental health system refuses to ask courts to invoke it. Hale never was covered and Abreu was, but was allowed to go off. As a result, neither was on the medicines that could have prevented the horrors that occurred.
To fix this problem, Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and state Sen. Catharine Young introduced a bill that would require jails to notify mental health officials when releasing a prisoner who was on psychiatric medications while incarcerated, so officials can determine if they should be covered by Kendra’s Law. That might have helped prevent Hale from stabbing Loor as Hale had a rap sheet.
The bill would also require that mental health officials review expiring court orders to see if they should be renewed. That might have kept Abreu in treatment and prevented White and Fair from being stabbed.
Makes sense? Of course it does. That’s why it’s endorsed by the Alliance on Mental Illness of New York State and the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, who want to keep the public and officers safer.
But Ortiz, for the second year in a row, is refusing to bring the bill up. He can be reached at (718) 492-6334 or (518) 455-3821.

DJ Jaffe is Executive Director of the non-partisan Mental Illness Policy Org., and author of Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill. He is a critic of the mental health industry for ignoring the seriously ill, and has been advocating for better treatment for individuals with serious mental illness for over 30 years. He has written op-eds on the intersection of mental health and criminal justice policy for the New York Times, Wall St. Journal and the Washington Post. New York Magazine has credited him with being the driving force behind the passage of New York’s Kendra’s Law and Congress incorporated ideas proposed by DJ in the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act.