Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos and Senator Catharine Young said recently that enacting a stronger, permanent Kendra’s Law must be a priority for the 2013 session, and should be included in any legislative agreement on gun safety. This initiative is strongly supported by Joe Robach of the NYS Senate.
Kendra’s Law was enacted in 1999 and authorizes court ordered assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) for individuals who voluntarily won’t seek help but are a safety threat. The law is designed to prevent serious harm to the mentally ill person and others.
Senator Young has proposed the following changes to improve Kendra’s Law to eliminate loopholes that could lead to more people falling through the cracks in the system, resulting in more tragedies:
•Making Kendra’s Law permanent. Since its enactment, Kendra’s Law has been effective for five-year periods. Without legislative action, the provisions of the law will expire on June 30, 2015.
•Changing the period which a court may order AOT from six months to up to one year. This measure provides judicial flexibility, and studies have indicated that longer periods of treatment, when appropriate, have been shown to be more effective.
•Ensuring that those who move during the AOT period continue to receive proper treatment.
•Requiring an evaluation when mental health patients are released from inpatient treatment or incarceration to ensure that AOT is provided when necessary so people needing services do not fall through the cracks.
•Requiring the Commissioner of the Office of Mental Health (OMH) to develop an educational pamphlet on the AOT process of petitioning so that family members have information on how to file a report. Oftentimes, loved ones are at a loss and feel helpless about how they can help their mentally ill family member.
Kendra’s Law is named in honor of Kendra Webdale, of Fredonia, in Senator Young’s district. On January 3, 1999, a man with a long history of schizophrenia pushed Kendra, 32, in front of an oncoming subway train. Witnesses said Kendra’s attacker, 29-year-old Andrew Goldstein, did not flee the scene. Instead, stopping just feet from the subway exit, Goldstein quietly stated, “I’m crazy. I’m psychotic. Take me to the hospital.” In a news interview just days ago, Andrew Goldstein called for restructuring Kendra’s Law to make it stronger to help prevent people with mental illness from harming themselves or others.
A 2009 Duke University study showed that AOT significantly reduces physical harm to others. This study also showed it vastly improves the quality of life for people with severe mental illness by reducing suicide attempts, hospitalizations, incarcerations, homelessness, and alcohol and drug abuse.
Most people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness are not violent and studies show that those with mental illnesses are 11 times more likely to be victims of violence themselves. Kendra’s Law would apply to a small segment of this community that poses a threat to themselves and others. Strengthening Kendra’s Law could help ensure such individuals receive the medical treatment they need, and prevent tragedies like these in the future.
For more information on this Senate initiative, please contact Joe Robach or his office.