Is New York Properly Supporting Mentally Ill People When They Leave Prison?
In New York, individuals with severe mental illness are often placed in a special part of a prison where they can receive services, therapies, and help monitoring their medication. But what happens when these individuals are released from prison? Are they still receiving the support they need? Oftentimes the answer is no. Many former prisoners with mental illness end up on the streets not receiving the help they need.

Not Enough Support

In 2019, the corrections department released thousands of mentally ill prisoners to homeless shelters because the special subsidized housing they qualified for had a waiting list. This subsidized housing would provide caseworkers and mental health staff to assist the former prisoners. This release was contrary to the department's previous policy, which was to keep prisoners incarcerated until a room opened up for them. The reasoning was that it was too dangerous to send them to homeless shelters.

The corrections department was sued for holding people beyond their release date, and the policy changed. Individuals who are now released lack the psychiatric support they need. This often results in mental health deterioration or an individual committing further crimes. This is a symptom of a larger problem. Since the 1950s, psychiatric institutions across the country were closed down after being criticized for being inhumane. However, inadequate funding was made available for community-based services. As a result, many people with mental illness ended up in prison instead of receiving the services they needed.

Revolving Door

New York doesn’t have anywhere near enough sufficient housing for the mentally ill individuals who are released from prison. When it is time to release these individuals, it may be unsafe to send them to homeless shelters where they will not receive the support they need. However, it is also unfair to keep them incarcerated until a bed in a subsidized facility opens up. The failure to provide services results in a revolving door of incarceration. Without having a stable home when they are released from prison, individuals with mental illness risk their health further deteriorating. It is clear that the state must find a way to provide adequate support for these individuals.

If you or a loved one has a mental disability and has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental disabilities. To schedule a consultation, call (509) 991-7058.
For More Information on Mental Disabilities and the Criminal Justice System

Representing People with Mental Disabilities: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers was edited by Elizabeth Kelley.
It contains chapters devoted to a variety of issues confronted by people with mental disabilities in the criminal justice system, such as Competency, Sanity, Malingering, Neuroscience, Jail and Prison Conditions, Working with Experts, and Risk Assessment. Chapters are written by academics, mental health experts, and criminal defense lawyers. In the introduction, Elizabeth writes that "This is the resource I wish I had had many years ago."
Elizabeth Kelley
Criminal Defense Attorney
Elizabeth Kelley is a criminal defense lawyer with a nationwide practice specializing in representing people with mental disabilities. She is the co-chair of The Arc's National Center for Criminal Justice and Disability, serves on the American Bar Association’s Commission on Disability Rights, Criminal Justice Section Council, and Editorial Board of the Criminal Justice Magazine Learn more.
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After more than a decade of unjust prosecution and abuse in the criminal justice system, Neli Latson, a Black man with multiple disabilities, is finally a free man. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam granted Mr. Latson, 29, a full pardon late Monday.

Mr. Latson, who has autism and intellectual disability, now has the chance to live a satisfying and self-directed life in the community, free from burdensome, unfair restrictions and the constant threat of reincarceration, but unfortunately never free from the painful truth that Black people with disabilities live at a dangerous intersection of racial injustice and disability discrimination. Mr. Latson’s case, which began in 2010, galvanized disability rights activists, bringing national attention to overly aggressive and sometimes deadly policing, prosecution and sentencing practices and the horrifying mistreatment of people with disabilities in jails and prisons.
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Representing People with Mental Disabilities: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers

Representing People with Mental Disabilities: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers, was edited by Elizabeth Kelley. It contains chapters devoted to a variety of issues confronted by people with mental disabilities in the criminal-justice system, such as:

  • Competency
  • Sanity
  • Malingering
  • Neuroscience
  • Jail and Prison Conditions
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Elizabeth's book titled Representing People with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers was released by the American Bar Association. Topics include:

  • Co-Occurring Disorders
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  • Competency
  • Risk of Violence
  • Mitigation.