Cheryl Roberts of the Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice has been working for many years to provide an alternative to incarceration for individuals that are treatment resistant.
“For those who refuse treatment, like Santos, the default is often the streets. Yet undeterred by this reality, the public fails to fund robust supportive housing and some officials and advocates still fail to acknowledge the value of court-mandated treatment or admit that we need to develop a wide variety of intensive supported housing and yes, some involuntary commitment beds to deal with serious cases, at least until they are stable.” Cheryl Roberts
Stories like this are happening too frequently for individuals that are not treatment adherent. Leaving untreated psychosis can have a dire impact on the individual, their loved ones, and their community.
ACMI is advocating that all individuals deserve a chance for a life with dignity. And we believe that until there is a period of stability in a safe recovery-based environment, recovery is unlikely to begin. Individuals that are treatment adherent tend to have trust with their treatment teams and a support system that works for them. Secure residential treatment is not for individuals that are adherent to their treatment.
Secure residential treatment is also not intended for individuals that have encountered a setback with their illness. It is for those individuals that have been highly unsuccessful with the current system, systems where they walk out because they do not believe they are ill. We believe that this is not a permanent placement for individuals, but a temporary arrangement to gain insight to start on a path for long term stability and a move towards more independence. The opponents of this philosophy offer no solutions for this segment of the population. Providing the same ACT team, peer support, and community living does not work for someone that is highly psychotic and lacks insight. Remember the definition of insanity- doing the same thing and expecting different results. ACMI strongly believes that providing secure residential treatment will provide a valuable missing service.
Few are guilty, all are responsible: How to fix a system that let a homeless man kill four other homeless men on New York’s streets
By Cheryl Roberts New York Daily News
Oct 10, 2019 | 3:01 PM|
As a former town judge and current bond agent for the Columbia County Bail Fund, I bristle at reports blaming the recent deaths of four homeless men on the Bronx Freedom Fund for bailing out the suspect, Randy Santos. I also bristle at those who point the finger at the Brooklyn judge who tried to divert Santos into mental health treatment after an earlier arrest rather than locking him away.
Like appears true of Santos, approximately 90% of the people I have bailed out have a mental illness and or substance use disorder. And while our bail fund’s volunteers go to incredible lengths to ensure our clients are connected to services, sometimes services are not enough, especially when someone refuses treatment or does not comprehend that he is seriously ill.
As a local judge in upstate New York, I had no good options to address the needs of people living with serious mental illness. Though New York City judges have more options, they are not mental heath professionals and cannot supervise a defendant once he or she leaves court. Yet judges are left to develop “treatment plans” and evaluate sometimes unknowable risks about mental health conditions and potential violent outbursts in a field where medications have not fundamentally changed in the last 30 years, basic scientific funding and research has lagged, and even seasoned psychiatrists would have a hard time diagnosing these defendants, a population, along with the homeless, many psychiatrists avoid at all costs.
Attempts to lay blame on the district attorney for failing to be tougher toward Santos may also be misplaced. Under the status quo, whether a DA diverted Santos or prosecuted him for previous charges, it’s quite possible that neither would have done justice, made the community safer or avoided tragedy. At some point, Santos would have re-entered society, most likely the worse for wear, after spending time on Rikers.
If blame is to be laid, it should start with the public and elected representatives, especially federal officials, who failed to fund mental health services or research for decades. That’s the real root cause of this problem.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, between 2009 and 2011, states also cumulatively cut more than $1.8 billion from their mental health budgets, with New York State scoring the second largest cuts in the nation, totaling $132 million. Perhaps it is not surprising then, that between 2009 to 2018, the city’s 911 calls involving “Emotionally Disturbed Persons” rose from 97,132 to 179,569.
Ironically, the mental health profession and certain mental health civil rights organizations are also at the core of our unraveling mental health system. Where has the American Psychiatric Association been for the last 30 years as their most ill patients have been criminalized or driven to homelessness?
And shame on groups that still advocate for complete deinstitutionalization, who refuse to acknowledge that mental institutions never really went away, they just morphed into two types: posh mental health facilities costing thousands of dollars a month, or prisons and jails which cost just as much but often deliver poor treatment, if any.
For those who refuse treatment, like Santos, the default is often the streets. Yet undeterred by this reality, the public fails to fund robust supportive housing and some officials and advocates still fail to acknowledge the value of court-mandated treatment or admit that we need to develop a wide variety of intensive supported housing and yes, some involuntary commitment beds to deal with serious cases, at least until they are stable.
Until the public stops stepping over people like Randy Santos and demands that our tax dollars fund a public health system geared toward the most ill and potentially most dangerous, there will be more tragedies like last week’s.
Let’s start by building on, rather of tearing down, the work Thrive NYC has done to raise awareness about mental illness and instead direct more Thrive funding to the most seriously ill. Then, over the long term, we must insist that funds to build new jails are at least in part spent on the real needs of those living with serious mental illness and substance use disorders.
Roberts is executive director of the Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice.