March 30, 2009

Assembly Restores Funding In State Budget
To Implement Critical Prison Reform
For Mentally Ill Inmates

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Assembly Ways and Means Chair Herman D. Farrell, Jr., and Assembly Corrections Chair Jeffrion Aubry announced today that SFY 2009-2010 budget rejects an Executive proposal that would have delayed the implementation of the Special Housing Unit Exclusion law that protects seriously mentally ill inmates from being placed in solitary confinement and instead requires that appropriate mental health treatment be provided.

"The Assembly Majority passed legislation last year that, once implemented, will provide treatment to the mentally ill housed in our prison system instead of keeping them in segregated housing units. This measure will create a safer environment for both inmates and the staff in our state facilities," said Silver (D-Manhattan). "There is no adequate reason to delay making this provision a reality, so we are saying no to the plan to cut funding and push the start date back three years."

This legislation, signed into law in January 2008, requires the state Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) to conduct mental health assessments of all inmates confined in special housing units (SHU) and periodic reassessments thereafter. Those diagnosed with serious mental illnesses must be removed from solitary confinement and placed in residential mental health treatment units operated by the Office of Mental Health and DOCS, where they will receive appropriate treatment and programming.

"By fighting to restore the $8.6 million in cuts originally proposed, the Assembly maintained its commitment to inmates in need of serious mental health services while in our custody," said Farrell (D-Manhattan). "We have seen the detrimental effects of segregated housing on inmates suffering from acute mental illness, and we must do all we can to ensure that these individuals receive the treatment they need."

"New York State took a huge step forward in protecting the rights of persons suffering from serious mental illness by enacting the Special Housing Unit Exclusion bill. When implemented the legislation will ensure that prisoners with serious mental illness receive needed treatment and are not confined under inhumane conditions," said Aubry (D-Queens). The Executive proposal to unnecessarily delay the important protections established by the SHU Exclusion Bill was unacceptable."