The New York State Senate has extended Kendra’s Law to June 30, 2015. The Assembly had already passed the extension of the law.
Kendra’s law allows courts to order involuntary outpatient treatment for seriously mentally ill people who have histories of violence or recidivism. It’s named for Kendra Webdale, who died after being pushed in front of an oncoming subway car in Manhattan in 1999. Her assailant, Andrew Goldstein, suffered from schizophrenia that had gone untreated even though he had sought help and had assaulted 13 other people.
The Editorial Board wrote about the pressing need to extend Kendra’s Law before its sunset date of June 30, and to consider making the valuable law permanent well before the next need for an extension.
We said then:
Kendra’s Law is good policy and protection for both the mentally ill and the public at large. … Lawmakers, so busy not passing a budget, must get Kendra’s Law extended, at the very least. Then, they must not wait the full five years to craft legislation to improve it and make it permanent.
The extender bill for Kendra’s Law was sponsored by state Sen. Thomas Morahan, R-New City, who chairs the Senate Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities. He also introduced a bill to make the law permanent, but it went nowhere when no Assembly bill matched. Another bill, supported by Kendra Webdale’s parents and many advocacy groups, would have made Kendra’s Law permanent while expanding it, including allowing more people to make referrals and adding ways to track people who had been mandated into treatment.
One of those pushing for the law’s expansion and permanant status is DJ Jaffe, founder of the NY Treatment Advocacy Coalition and former board member of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Today, he released a statement on the Senate’s vote, calling the failure to make Kendra’s Law permanent and close loopholes in the legislation “dangerous, expensive, and cruel to individuals with serious mental illness and all New Yorkers.” He said:
As a result of this vote, both hospitals and prisons can continue to release seriously mentally ill individuals who may be danger to self or others into the community without first assuring they will get mandatory ongoing treatment to prevent them from becoming violent again. Earlier this week, the legislature voted to permanently shut down 250 inpatient psychiatric hospital beds for the mentally ill. The combination of these votes puts the mentally ill at risk of not receiving treatment, and other New Yorkers at risk of the consequences.
Last week after the Assembly vote, the mental health commissioners in Westchester and Rockland told the Editorial Board that the law had great value, and supported extending it, as is. They explained that a referral to use Kendra’s Law operated as a sort of “warning flag,” that alerted them to people who needed more support. Often, individuals, when offered help, would accept it, negating the need for court-ordered treatment under Kendra’s Law. But, they were concerned about how any changes could play out, and were hesitant to make a changed law permanent.
Here’s a statement from Morahan’s press release on extending Kendra’s Law:
The statewide implementation of Kendra’s Law has resulted in beneficial structural changes to local mental health service delivery systems. It clearly improves a range of important outcomes for its recipients, apparently without negative consequences to recipients. Increased services available under Kendra’s Law also clearly improve recipient outcomes.