Legal Aid Society


Op-Ed: Treatment Not Jail, A Moral Imperative

The Legal Aid Society’s Jeffrey Berman and New York County Defender Services’ Katherine LeGeros Bajuk make the case for the groundbreaking Treatment Not Jail Act in a new op-ed for Politics New York.

The legislation would ensure that New Yorkers with substance use challenges, mental health concerns, and other disabilities have an off-ramp from the criminal legal system to obtain treatment and support in their communities rather than jail.

Michael Nieves, the thirteenth person to die while in Department of Correction custody this year, is a sobering reminder of why the need for this legislation is so great. Mr. Nieves had a documented history of serious mental illness and suicidality but was still able to take his own life while corrections staff on Rikers Island reportedly stood idly by.

“We are morally obligated to address the challenges of mental illness by assuring community-based support throughout a person’s life. If there is criminal legal system involvement later because of such failures, then we must advocate for treatment, not jail,” the attorneys write. “There will be more harm to people like Michael Nieves unless we improve our practices.”

Read the full piece here.