Advocates for former inmates with mental illness have won the latest battle in an ongoing dispute with New York City over its provision of re-entry services.
The June 28 decision in the ongoing case of Brad H. v. NYC overturns an earlier decision favoring the City that had dismissed a complaint about the City’s compliance with service requirements based on the date of its filing.
The case began with a lawsuit that was filed in 1999 on behalf of inmates charging that the City had failed to comply with the State Constitution and Mental Hygiene Law requiring the provision of discharge planning services for people with mental illnesses when they leave prison.
The case was settled in 2003 with the Supreme Court requiring the City to provide community-based mental health treatment, medication, assistance applying for public benefits and transportation to a home or shelter to the former inmates. The deal was set to last five years. However, there was disagreement over when the City’s compliance with the court order had begun.
In May 2009, the plaintiffs filed a complaint in Manhattan Supreme Court charging that the City had failed to comply with settlement terms and requesting an extension of services. The City argued that the complaint had come after the five-year window expired, ending the court’s authority to enforce the agreement. An appeals panel sided with the City in May 2010.
The New York Court of Appeals has now overturned last year’s decision, saying the 2009 complaint was filed before the five-year window expired, based on the date when the City began implementing compliance monitors. The court voted 4-3 in the plaintiffs’ favor.
The Urban Justice Center represented the plaintiffs. Jennifer Parish, director of criminal justice advocacy at the center’s Mental Health Project, said the ruling enables the legal team to move forward in its bid to extend the settlement by two years.
Parish said the City has begun providing medication and prescriptions to former inmates but remains out of compliance with the other requirements in the agreement, according to a recent review conducted by the center. Parish said she hopes that with an additional two years of monitoring the City will establish a reliable system for providing the required services to the thousands of people who qualify.
“The benefits of this agreement are really important to the people who are affected by them and it should be to our society to make sure people when released get the services they need,” Parish said. The City did not respond to requests for comment.
Judge Victoria Graffeo wrote the majority opinion for the court. “The termination provision was triggered five years after the commencement of monitoring, not the start of planning or preparatory work,” she wrote. That determination meant the 2009 complaint had come within the bounds of the agreement. The parties will return to court next month to argue that case.
This article was published in the August 2011 issue of Able News.