Criminal Competency Complex

A Column by Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush (R,C-Black River)

In New York, the process of competency restoration is used when an individual who is convicted of a crime is found to be incompetent to stand trial due to active mental illness or disability. In that case, the defendant cannot be tried until they have been restored to competency, which is the responsibility of the county where they are being tried. Restoration is not treatment, it returns the convicted to a state of competency where they can stand trial, and until they reach this point, they will stay in the competency program being funded by taxpayer dollars. Once found competent, the efforts cease with no after plan for success in society.

In 2021, Gov. Cuomo took an administrative action that was not voted upon to require counties to cover 100% of the costs of restoring these defendants to competency. This is costing our communities millions of dollars in extra payments to fund this program. Before 2021, the state and counties split these costs down the middle, with 50% being covered by the state and 50% being covered by the counties. I believe it is time we take a step back and assess whether our counties can continue to bear these costs.

In the North Country and the Mohawk Valley, we suffer from the burden of competency restoration like every other county in NYS. Unfortunately, it is unlikely we will see any changes to this until next year’s budget process begins because it is an unbudgeted expense to the state. Legislation such as A.5063 and A.1561 would provide significant cost savings to counties by ensuring the state foots part of the bill to help cushion the cost toward competency restoration.

In the four counties I represent, the burden to the taxpayer to rehabilitate an individual to competency is incredibly damaging. The costs are through the roof, and there are no negotiations. This is draining funds from our counties. In these cases, the trial is held by a state judge and the individual is transferred to a state facility, yet the complete cost falls to the counties. While the cost falls to the counties, the county gets no report on how the money is being spent, or how the patients are being restored. This is completely unacceptable.

This program is well overdue for a revamp.The state at a bare minimum needs to contribute its share to funding competency restoration. I would argue a more effective approach with county involvement is needed for this process to work correctly. The overall rise in mental health issues has created a burden counties are unable to bear. Without state funding, the financial burden of competency restoration will continue to cripple our counties.