New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced plans for a $130 million prison overhaul that would focus on improving the way the city deals with suspects who are mentally ill or struggle with drug abuse.
The mayor had appointed a task force to take a closer look at the issues that plague the Rikers Island jail complex and, based on the force’s recommendations, he is ready to put a plan into action.
Earlier this year the Associated Press highlighted numerous troublesome cases of mentally ill or drug-addicted inmates suffering horrendous abuse during their stay in Rikers, with many of them even dying while incarcerated.
Perhaps two of the most widely discussed deaths were those of the inmate who “baked to death” in a cell that was kept at more than 100 degrees and another man who sexually mutilated himself after spending seven consecutive days alone in a cell, the Associated Press reported.
Over the next four years, Mayor de Blasio hopes the multi-million dollar plan will put an end to the abuse inmates suffer while behind bars while also decreasing how many mentally ill and drug-addicted suspects are even brought to jail rather than receiving treatment for their illnesses or addictions.
The four-year plan will not require approval from the city council and will implement major changes to the jail’s current operations and procedures.
Those changes will include “stepped-up training for police to identify such suspects, using drop-off treatment centers for low-level offenders and allowing more leeway for judges to order supervised released treatment instead of jail,” according to the Associated Press.
For months now the mayor himself has slammed the city’s jails as “de facto mental health facilities” and the task force’s report mirrored those sentiments.
“The jails hold up a mirror to the rest of the criminal-justice system,” the task force’s report said before adding that “at every point, the criminal-justice system has become the default for addressing the problems presented by people with behavioral health issues, whether at arrest, arraignment, confinement or in the neighborhood.”
Reports indicated that the population of inmates with some sort of mental health disorder rose more than 15 percentage points since 2007, bringing the current percentage to a staggering 40 percent of roughly 11,000 inmates.
This percentage does not take into account additional inmates who struggle with drug addictions.
The mayor’s plan will also incorporate more adding more therapeutic services inside the jails, putting programs in place that will make sure inmates who are released will get reconnected to Medicaid.
While the plan is an expensive one, many officials also see it as being absolutely necessary in order to avoid the deaths of more inmates.
Funding for the plan will include $40 million in asset forfeiture money from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and an additional $90 million from the city’s budget.
The mother of the Rikers inmate who was left in an overheated cell back in February said the plan is a silver lining for her amidst what has been an extremely tragic year.
Alma Murdough, whose son passed away back in February after being locked in the hot cell on a misdemeanor trespassing charge, said, “It means a lot to me, knowing that Jerome’s death was not in vain.”