NYC Mayor Aims to Tackle Addiction in Local Jails

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has taken a major step towards fixing the city’s flawed jail system by allocating $130 million for mentally ill and drug-addicted suspects to be steered towards treatment instead of prison.

A Look at the Reforms

The proposed reforms are based on the recommendations made by an assigned task force and geared towards “frequent flier” suspects, who are regularly jailed on minor offenses.

Among the possible changes on the table are giving judges more room to order supervised treatment and release instead of jail, creating two drop-off treatment centers for low-level offenders and mandatory 36-hour training courses for police officers on how to deal with people who have behavioral health issues.

Most of these proposals will be implemented through pilot programs that are tracked over the next year. However, de Blasio told New Yorkers not to expect immediate changes.

“This is going to be a long process by definition,” he said. “It was not years; it was decades in the making. That’s how broken our corrections system was.”

Addiction Crowds Local Jails

Approximately 85 percent of all inmates in NYC jails have a substance abuse disorder.

Approximately 85 percent of all inmates in NYC jails have a substance abuse disorder. Nearly 40 percent of the 11,000 daily inmates have a mental health diagnosis, up from 24 percent in 2007. One-third of them have serious mental health issues such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

While medical professionals and advocates for the homeless have applauded the efforts, some question if de Blasio’s plans could be more effective.

“It’s definitely a positive step forward,” said Patrick Markee, director of advocacy at Coalition for the Homeless. “But the most important issue remains permanent affordable housing with support services and the real problem is we have a huge shortage of that kind of housing.”

The Mayor’s Personal Goals

The goal of more accessible drug treatment is also a deeply personal one for Mayor de Blasio.

His father, Warren, was an alcoholic who took his own life. His daughter, 20-year-old Chiara, entered outpatient treatment last year for marijuana and alcohol abuse that was triggered by clinical depression. She spoke about her newfound sobriety in a video released last December through de Blasio’s e-mail campaign.

“It made it easier, the more I drank and did drugs, to share some common ground with people that I wouldn’t have,” said Chiara in the video.

“It didn’t start out as like a huge thing for me, but then it became a really huge thing for me… [quitting was] the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
Learn more about treatment options for alcohol abuse and addiction.

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