Legal Aid Society


LAS: Mental Health Court Success Makes the Case for Treatment Not Jail Act

The overwhelming success of mental health courts is the subject of a new feature story in the New York Daily News. The piece shares the compelling story of Reza Mashayekhi, a Legal Aid client, whose life was positively transformed by completing a court-ordered treatment mandate through the Manhattan Mental Health Court.

The expose speaks to the transformative supports — including supportive housing and community based clinical care and supervision – that are put in place through mental health courts for individuals whose untreated health conditions contributed to their criminal legal involvement. The Daily News reports that 82% of participants graduated from these programs last year after complying with all mandates and a majority have not been re-arrested, which speaks to existing data that mental health and drug diversion courts significantly reduce recidivism while jail and prison increase it.

New York City’s defender organizations, including The Legal Aid Society, are calling on Governor Hochul and New York State lawmakers to include a $16 million budget appropriation in order to expand the already existing framework with drugs courts and codify mental health courts into law through the Treatment Not Jail Act.

Over 50% of the population on Rikers Island has a diagnosed mental health disorder, according to City estimates, and 16% of those individuals are classified as severe.

“It has never been more apparent that jail only serves to undermine public safety, including the individual safety and well-being of those trapped in this crisis of Rikers Island,” said Tina Luongo, Chief Attorney of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society.

“The Treatment Not Jail Act offers an urgently needed pathway to treatment for thousands of people who are languishing in jail,” they continued. “We call on the Hochul Administration, Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Heastie to immediately enact this critically important law.”