Correction Committee Chair O’Donnell Calls for Improved Mental Health Services in New York State Correctional System while Commending Some Aspects of Executive Budget

Today, Correction Chair Daniel O’Donnell attended the Joint Legislative Budget Hearing on Mental Hygiene to call for improved mental health services in prisons. He spoke to Office of Mental Health Commissioner Ann Marie T. Sullivan about his budgetary concerns.

Last year we learned that some individuals with mental illnesses were being released from prison without sufficient—if any—discharge planning. The Assembly moved quickly to pass my bill to mandate mental health discharge planning, and I am very pleased to hear from Commissioner Sullivan that sufficient money has been allocated to fund this. Too often an individual’s release from prison can be confusing and destabilizing, and particularly for inmates with mental health diagnoses, it can be difficult to maintain necessary routines and access professional mental health support. This funding will enable these individuals to transition smoothly and safely into society.

I continue to be extremely concerned about the decreasing number of inmates diagnosed with serious mental illnesses. I personally know of a number of cases in which an individual with a serious mental health diagnosis before incarceration is diagnosed at a much lower level once in prison. I appreciate Commissioner Sullivan’s attention to this matter, and I urge her to complete her investigation as soon as possible. We have banned solitary confinement for individuals with serious mental illnesses. This population is particularly vulnerable to being isolated, and severe and even permanent damage could result from its use. If inmates are improperly diagnosed, the important protections we have put in place will be useless.

Assembly Member O’Donnell’s bill to mandate mental health discharge planning, A10071, passed both houses last year, and was signed into law by Governor Cuomo on December 29, 2014. This session he has already introduced 38 bills to address many of the issues facing the New York State correctional system, and its inmates with mental illness.