The New York State Senate today passed a bill that would strengthen Kendra’s Law and make its provisions permanent. The bill (S516), sponsored by Senator Catharine Young (R-C-I, 57TH District), enhances public safety, improves the quality and effectiveness of care provided to the mentally ill, and prevents Kendra’s Law from expiring on June 30, 2017.
Senator Young said, “Too frequently, the heart-wrenching consequences of people suffering from mental illness without receiving needed care and support becomes apparent at devastating costs. Of course, not all people with mental illness are violent, but when severe psychiatric issues go untreated, it can become a major contributing factor in violent acts or suicide. Before Kendra's Law, the system was flawed because it could allow people with the most serious mental health disturbances who pose a risk to themselves or others to deteriorate before they got help. By strengthening and permanently implementing Kendra’s Law, people with profound mental illness will get the court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment they need to prevent violence, suicide, and incarcerations. It will protect the public while vastly improving the quality of life for those grappling with severe mental illness.”
Kendra’s Law was first enacted in 1999 after a tragic incident where 32-year-old Kendra Webdale was pushed in front of a subway train by a man with untreated schizophrenia who was roaming New York City streets. The law allows for court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) for individuals who won’t voluntarily seek help but are a safety threat.
Since Kendra’s Law was enacted, studies have found that patients given mandatory outpatient treatment and who were more violent to begin with were four times less likely than members of a control group to perpetrate serious violence after undergoing AOT. The studies also found less frequent psychiatric hospitalizations, shorter lengths of hospitalizations, reductions in the likelihood of arrest, higher social functioning, less stigma, and no increase in perceived coercion.
The law is designed to prevent serious harm to the mentally ill person or others, but gaps exist in the current system that must be fixed to make it more effective. The measure would not only make Kendra’s Law permanent, but includes several provisions to enhance the current system of AOT including: requiring follow-up on those who move during the AOT period to ensure that they receive their treatment; requiring an evaluation for AOT when mental health patients are released from inpatient treatment or incarceration so that people needing services do not fall through the cracks; requiring counties to notify the Office of Mental Health (OMH) when an assisted outpatient is missing and thereby unavailable for an evaluation as to whether he or she continues to meet AOT criteria; and requiring the Commissioner of OMH to develop an educational pamphlet on the AOT process of petitioning so that family members have information on how to file a report.
The bill has been sent to the Assembly, where it is sponsored by Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (A604).