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Mayor de Blasio Announces $90 Million Investment in Reducing Low-Level Arrests for People with Behavioral Health Needs

May 12, 2017

Two new drop-off diversion centers will provide short-term stabilizing services for 2,400 people per year, giving police officers a much needed alternative to arrest and jail for individuals with mental health needs who do not pose a risk to public safety

NEW YORK—Mayor de Blasio today announced that the City is investing nearly $90 million for two new diversion centers scheduled to open next year. These diversion centers will offer short-term stabilizing services for individuals with mental health and substance use needs, providing police officers the option to bring these individuals to a diversion center as an alternative to arrest. These centers will be able to divert approximately 2,400 people annually who would otherwise be arrested on low-level charges.

The diversion centers are the final piece of the Mayor’s Action Plan on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System. Comprised of 24 interlocking initiatives that stretch across the entire criminal justice system, the Action Plan has helped to reduce the number of people with a mental health diagnosis in city jails by 7 percent in the last two years. The new diversion centers could reduce this number even further.

“These two new diversion centers will provide police officers with a new option for responding to the needs of some of our most vulnerable New Yorkers – instead of making an arrest, police will be able to connect people to the mental health or substance abuse care they need,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Safe alternatives to arrest that give people the tools they need to get back on track are key to our criminal justice reforms and bringing down our jail population.”

“Too many people in our jails do not belong there and can be traumatized by the experience. Those who are struggling with mental illness, substance misuse or addiction don't need to be incarcerated. – they need treatment,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray, who leads ThriveNYC, the city’s mental health reform efforts. “Diversion centers will help people who are not well by connecting them to treatment that can transform their lives.”

“Too often, New Yorkers who struggle with mental health and substance use issues end up in our criminal justice system, when the best path is to connect them to treatment,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “Opening Diversion Centers builds on the City's commitment to expand mental health services for all residents. I commend Mayor de Blasio for taking a public health approach to reform the criminal justice system.”

"This will provide additional resources for the public, and another tool for the police," said NYPD Police Commissioner James P. O'Neill. "The goal is that these centers will provide mental health and addiction services that were previously unavailable to those who need them most."

“For too long, police in New York City and across the country have had very limited options when responding to individuals with behavioral health needs whose behavior violates the law," said Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice. "Police have had to choose between an arrest, which can exacerbate health concerns instead of address them, or an emergency room, which often requires that an officer spend hours at a hospital instead of addressing pressing public safety needs. New York City's significant investment in two new diversion centers is a key piece of solving this problem. For those who do not pose a risk to public safety, officers will now have an effective way to connect individuals with stabilizing care instead of making an arrest. This will improve the fairness of our justice system by ensuring that individuals who need help get help and thus contribute further to the safe reduction in our jail population.” 

The centers will offer a range of clinical and non-clinical services, including overnight shelter and basic need services, such as food, laundry and showers. Clinical services will include health and behavioral health assessments, counseling, advocacy, peer-to-peer engagement services, medication, medically supervised substance use stabilization and withdrawal management services, and naloxone training and distribution.

The centers will operate 24/7 with a no-refusal policy for individuals brought in by the police. Length of stay will vary from hours to days depending on the person’s needs, with a cap of five days. When there is clinical need, such as more supervision of withdrawal services, the stay can be extended to ten days. Once the client is stabilized, the centers will connect them to healthcare, social services and other supports. The centers will not be used as a replacement for permanent housing or long-term shelter for homeless individuals.

The City will award approximately $90 million to two non-profit vendors, Project Renewal and Samaritan Daytop Village, to operate the diversion centers for the next ten years. The contracts will be overseen by the NYC Health Department. Both vendors have decades of experience serving New Yorkers with substance use issues or mental illness. The contracts will begin in June and September. The initiative includes funding and programmatic support from the State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services and the State Office of Mental Health. 

The model of the new diversion centers was developed by the NYC Health Department, in consultation with partner agencies. Through ThriveNYC, the most comprehensive mental health plan of any city or state in the country, these centers will offer an innovative alternative to jail or hospitalization for individuals suffering with behavioral health conditions. The diversion centers are also a paired strategy with the City’s ongoing effort to expand training for police officers that will enable them to better recognize the behaviors and symptoms of mental illness and substance use. In the last two years, as part of the Action Plan on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System, the NYPD has integrated Crisis Intervention Training into the police academy curriculum and is on track to provide stand-alone 36-hour training for 5,500 officers by early 2018.

The two centers are expected to open in early and late 2018, respectively. The facilities will be located in two areas with need and a high concentration of police officers who have been trained in how to deescalate interactions with individuals with behavioral health needs. Specific locations will be announced later this year. 

“Project Renewal is proud to have been selected to develop and manage a critically needed diversion center.  We applaud Mayor de Blasio for his innovative actions to improve New York City's approach to serving people with mental health issues.  The two diversion centers show New York City is fully committed to treating mental health and substance use disorders as health issues, rather than criminal justice matters.  We will bring the same dedication to care and compassion for our clients to this program that have been the hallmark of Project Renewal since its founding 50 years ago. The diversion center will afford us another opportunity to restore hope and renew the lives of even more New Yorkers,” said Mitchell Netburn, President and CEO of Project Renewal.

“Samaritan Daytop Village is pleased to do our part to reduce admissions to Rikers Island by diverting people brought to us by the police department who are experiencing non-emergency psychiatric and drug use issues and instead providing crisis intervention and treatment to promote stability,” said Tino Hernandez, President and CEO of Samaritan Daytop Village.

Over the last 20 years, New York City has experienced the sharpest drops in crime anywhere in the nation, while also substantially reducing jail populations. However, on any given day in New York City jails, approximately 11 percent of those detained have a serious mental illness, 40 percent from a broader array of mental issues, and more than 85 percent have substance use disorders.  Despite the high percentages, the overall number of individuals in city jails has fallen in the last two years since implementation of the Mayor’s Action Plan on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice system began.

Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, Chair of Health Committee, said: “New Yorkers with behavioral and mental health issues need treatment, not criminalization,” said Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried of Manhattan.  “This investment will connect people with the treatment and recovery programs that help them stabilize their lives and prevent recidivism.” 

Assembly Member Luis Sepulveda said, “As a longtime advocate for criminal justice reform, serving on the Assembly Committee on Correction and as Chair of the Subcommittee on Transitional Services, I salute Mayor de Blasio and his administration for offering these significant diversion services for individuals with mental health and substance use needs. It will be an important option for both police and these individuals who may benefit more from help rather than incarceration. It is the sensible thing to do.”

Assembly Member Michael Blake said, “I commend Mayor De Blasio for this $90 million investment in‎ diversions centers. As the representative of Crotona Park East and Morrisania, which have the highest rate of jailed residents in New York City, I am deeply concerned with the condition of our Criminal‎ Justice system. This investment will work to reduce the number of individuals with mental-health issues in our jails, allowing them to get the proper treatment and support that they need to live in the‎ community, and reduce the number of New Yorkers in jail. I thank Mayor De Blasio for this step in the right direction, and look forward to continuing to work to reform our Criminal Justice System and address‎ the mental health crisis that faces our city.”

Council Member Andrew Cohen, Chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Disability Services, said: “For too long Rikers Island has served as a hospital of last resort, because mental health issues when left untreated can lead to criminal justice system contacts. Diversion centers are a better alternative model of care than jail. I applaud the Mayor de Blasio, First Lady McCray and DOHMH for delivering on the promise to create two drop-off centers, which will divert approximately 2,400 people a year and connect them to treatment, instead of incarceration."

Council Member Vanessa Gibson, Chair of the Committee on Public Safety, said: “These new behavioral health centers will take pressure off of our officers, our jails, and our justice system. I applaud the Administration for investing in a common sense measure that recognizes our community is safer and more just when low level offenders with behavioral health concerns are offered help, rather than a court date. I thank Mayor de Blaiso for his leadership and for his commitment to the health and safety of all New Yorkers.”

“I see this as an important, sensible step toward criminal justice reform. Unnecessary arrests of people needing mental health and rehabilitation services only exacerbate cycles of poverty and inequity in New York. We must continue efforts to interrupt these cycles and provide New Yorkers with the services they need,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres.

About Project Renewal
Project Renewal’s mission is to end the cycle of homelessness by empowering men, women and children to renew their lives with health, homes and jobs. Our innovative programs are designed to end the revolving door and our results prove they work. For over 45 years, our pioneering approach has created uniquely integrated and comprehensive solutions: health, homes, and jobs. Our programs are replicated around the nation, helping even beyond the 15,000 homeless New Yorkers Project Renewal serves every year.

About Samaritan Daytop Village
What began as one community’s compassionate effort to reach struggling youth, Samaritan Daytop Village has evolved into a comprehensive human services agency with more than 40 locations across New York City and beyond. Samaritan Daytop Village offers a rich array of programs including treatment for substance abuse, innovative services for veterans, and programs for homeless individuals, women and children, seniors and families.

About the Mayor’s Task Force on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System
The Task Force on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System spent 100 days developing dozens of interlocking public health and public safety strategies that address each point in the criminal justice system and the overlap among those points. The recommendations of the task force focus on ensuring that, when appropriate, individuals with behavioral health disorders: do not enter the criminal justice system in the first place; if they do enter, that they are treated outside of a jail setting; if they are in jail, that they receive treatment that is therapeutic, rather than punitive; and that upon release, they are connected to effective services.

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