NY1 Survey: Barriers to Mental Health Court Access

NY1 Survey: Barriers to Mental Health Court Access

Erick Tavira visited Metropolitan Hospital for mental health care in June 2021.

Instead, surveillance video obtained by NY1 shows he was not seen and was arrested after fighting with a security guard there in what his family’s attorney said. be part of a psychotic episode.

Another arrest a week later for assault and strangulation sent him to Rikers Island.

These incidents, according to his family, happened because he did not receive the care he needed.

“If he asked to be seen and they didn’t see him, it was a crime,” Haydeth Tavira, Erick Tavira’s mother, said through an interpreter. “It’s not a crime to ask for help, to ask for medicine, for treatment. What they did to him was not right.

When he last appeared in court before his death, it was clear that Tavira’s lawyer was looking for an alternative.

What do you want to know

  • A month before his death, public defender Erick Tavira was trying to get him to appear in mental health court in Manhattan
  • The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office wouldn’t accept him into the program.
  • Lawyers and defense advocates say these courts are highly selective and impossible to access

According to a Sept. 29, 2022, court transcript in the New York Supreme Court, Tavira’s public defender said his client “has mental health and addiction issues, and that’s a pretty serious mental health issue, Judge. The ADA subpoenaed “- the Assistant District Attorney – “we both agreed that the reason for these two incidents was because of his mental health and lack of medication that he did not have access to medication, Judge .

The lawyer continues:

“Unfortunately, at this time, I was recently told that the ADA would not consent to mental health court or that the matter would be referred to the ATI,” an alternative program to incarceration.

At the time, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office was not open to sending Tavira, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, to mental health court – an alternative to incarceration aimed at keeping away people with severe Rikers mental illness.

Tavira will return to prison where he will die less than a month later by suicide.

“It’s tragic that we had a number of deaths on Rikers Island,” said Alvin Bragg, in an exclusive interview with NY1.

The Manhattan District Attorney would not discuss the details of Tavira’s case.

“We do a holistic review that certainly looks at the nature of the crime, the medical history, the mental health treatment history, a whole host of factors,” Bragg said. “For reasons of confidentiality, I cannot go into any individual case and any detail.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the public prosecutor went further:

“Due to the disturbing nature of the conduct alleged in these cases – an assault on a peace officer and a subsequent attack on a 14-year-old boy and a good Samaritan less than a week later – people were not not comfortable releasing Mr. Tavira in an unsecured facility, which would have been part of any mental health court or alternatives to incarceration. DA Bragg supports the creation of secure facilities for the treatment of those charged with violent crimes.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Rikers Island inmates suffer from serious mental illness. Defense lawyers, families and advocates say the alternative to keeping them behind bars – which could potentially take cases to mental health court – is selective and nearly impossible to penetrate.

An NY1 investigation found that these courts, spread across the five boroughs, have different standards for accepting people. In 2022, many of them only took a few dozen new criminal cases.

NY1 has found that local district attorneys all have different requirements for committing defendants to these courts.

And judges also have different approaches.

Brooklyn, for its part, accepts most cases. This court had 98 new ones in 2022.

Participants meet regularly with Judge Matthew D’Emic. They review their progress in treatment programs, which they must attend as part of their guilty plea to enter.

When they succeed, they are greeted with applause.

“We are reviewing these cases very carefully and determining if the risk can be managed,” D’Emic said. “And look a little beyond, deeper than the fillers to see what’s really going on. There are very few cases that can be excluded. »

The majority of their participants, Judge said, graduated from the program.

Of course, not all go as planned.

One of their participants was shot and killed last year in an altercation with the police.

“It had a very tragic ending,” D’Emic said.

Even so, such cases are rare, he says.

Ultimately, he says, they keep people out of jail and into treatment.

“A lot of it is politically what the community is willing to accept,” Judge said. “We’ve been lucky in Brooklyn because from Joe Hynes to Ken Thompson to Eric Gonzalez, we’ve had district attorneys not just willing but actively seeking to divert people to these courts and not all counties have not that.”

Figures in other boroughs are lower.

The Manhattan district attorney says he is limited in the number of cases the mental health court can take.

This tribunal took on 38 new cases in 2022.

“We are for the expansion of the mental health court,” Bragg said. “I am for the expansion of the mental health court. A feature of Manhattan is that, contractually, we can only have 50 cases at a time. When you compare that to the size of our case and the mental health needs, the crisis, in Manhattan and the city, it’s not good enough. »

He says he wants to quadruple that number.

In Queens, the mental health court accepted 23 new cases in 2022.

“It’s a small number, but what it doesn’t take into account are people who pleaded last year or the year before and I’m still monitoring now,” said Judge Marcia Hirsch, who oversees Queens Mental Health Court. “I also have people with serious mental illness in my veterans treatment court, in my drug treatment court in my DWI treatment court and in my drug diversion court, the cases of the section 216.”

Hirsch also said he needs more resources.

“I believe I have 80 cases in progress, which means the prosecutor’s office is ready to take them. We have already spoken to the lawyers,” Hirsch said. “What’s holding them back are the psychosocial assessments and the risk assessments that need to be done so that we can come up with a treatment plan and it really gets bogged down in the system.”

Lawyers and public defenders are pushing legislation, called “Treatment not Jails,” in Albany to try to standardize and expand these courts. But his fate, for now, is uncertain.

For now, those who fail to enter may have to stay on Rikers.

“They too dream of going out and doing something new with their lives, a new opportunity,” Erick Tavira’s mother told NY1. “That’s what my son wanted. He said that when he had to go out, he would do better and behave himself.

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