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Court: NYC must support ill inmates leaving jail

Court: NYC must support ill inmates leaving jail
A court upholds settlement for mentally ill inmates receiving treatment in city jails to have individualized discharge plans when they're released.

A judge on Friday upheld - and extended through 2016 - a settlement between New York City and lawyers for mentally ill inmates that required prisoners who received mental health treatment in city jails to have individualized discharge plans upon release.

The decision in state Supreme Court in Manhattan capped a nearly 15-year legal effort by attorneys with the Urban Justice Center's Mental Health Project, who sued the city in 2000 claiming mentally ill inmates were discharged from city jails with subway tokens and little else, thus resulting in repeated incarcerations.

The class-action lawsuit they brought was named after Brad H., a 44-year-old man who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and alcoholism. From age 9 through 18, he lived in a psychiatric hospital and later had been an inmate in city jails about 26 times but never received a discharge plan.

On Friday, Justice Geoffrey Wright extended the requirements of the 2003 settlement agreement another two years, told the city to fill clinical and nonclinical staff positions and asked them to implement a plan to review how well the discharge process was working.

Wright also ruled that the city must better coordinate clinical staff who treat inmates and staff who plan an inmate's discharge.

"We are pleased that the court recognizes the dire need for these critical services and the importance of the city complying with its obligation to help people with mental illness released from jail," said Jennifer J. Parish, one of the Urban Justice Center's attorneys.

Spokespeople for the city's Law Department, the Department of Correction and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene didn't immediately return requests for comment.

About 40 percent of the roughly 12,000 inmates in the nation's second-largest jail system have a mental health diagnosis and a third of those suffer from serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The settlement was reached in 2003 but the inmates' lawyers brought a motion in 2009, when it was set to expire, arguing the city wasn't following portions of it.

In 2011, an appeals court ruled against the city, which had argued the 2009 motion was filed after the settlement had expired. Plaintiff's attorneys argued again in 2012 that the settlement should be enforced.