Kendra’s Law: Equal access to care regardless of Race


Early on, a group that strongly opposes Kendra’s Law created their own ‘study’ that purported to show Kendra’s Law is disproportionately applied to African Americans. They thought by raising the spectre of ‘racism’ they could prevent the state legislature from implementing it. (Note that if one believes that Kendra’s Law is a good program, in that it reduces arrest, incarceration, homelessness and helps people recover, allowing people of color to fill more of the slots might not necesarily be a bad thing.)

Because opponents used the race card in their efforts, the NYS legislature funded an independent study.

Independent study shows Kendra’s Law is Racially Neutral

In 2005, the NYS legislature funded a five year study of the claim of bias. The study found people of color are a disproportionately large percentage of NYC’s population and recipients of public services when compared to rest of state. 50% of Kendra’s Law recipients come from NYC.

Because AOT does not discriminate based on race, Hispanics and African Americans are represented in AOT in proportion to their representation in the community at large. The independent study concluded:

  • We find no evidence that the AOT Program is disproportionately selecting African Americans for court orders, nor is there evidence of a disproportionate effect on other minority populations. Our interviews with key stakeholders across the state corroborate these findings.
  • Parallel analyses for Hispanics and other minority populations show this same pattern and no appreciable racial disparities are evident in selection of these groups for AOT.
  • Defining the target population as public-system clients with multiple hospitalizations, the rate of application to white and black clients approaches parity.

Read the complete study.

SAMHSA Webinar on AOT Confirms non-discrimination

In December 2013, SAMHSA held a webinar on AOT. One of the presenters was Dr. Stephanie Lamelle Co-Director of Public Psychiatry at NYS Psychiatric Institute. Dr Lamenelle addressed the question of racial disparity and stated unequivocally that any racial bias within the system–of which there may be a lot–is not taking place within the Kendra’s Law program. Dr. Lamelle is African American.

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.