Communications Office:
David Bookstaver, Director
Mai Yee, Assistant Director
(212) 428-2500

Date: October 1, 2002

Seal of the Unified Court System
New Court in Brooklyn Targets Mentally Ill Offenders
BROOKLYN, NY - Brooklyn Mental Health Court - the first court in New York dedicated to the handling of non-violent cases of defendants with serious, persistent mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder - officially opens today with visits by state and local officials. The goal of the court is to provide mentally ill defendants with the support and structure they need to avoid further criminal behavior. Balancing public safety with the treatment needs of defendants, the court features rigorous judicial monitoring, enhanced accountability, continuity, and increased coordination and communication between the criminal justice and mental health systems.

The Brooklyn Mental Health Court operates out of a dedicated courtroom in Kings County Supreme Court. Participation in the program is voluntary for cases screened eligible for the court and is based on a plea of guilty from the defendant, who agrees to a course of treatment in lieu of incarceration. The sentence is then deferred until the defendant demonstrates successful long-term compliance with a stringent court-mandated treatment program and other conditions, at which time the charges are either reduced or dismissed.

The Brooklyn Mental Health Court follows the successful model of existing problem-solving courts in New York, such as drug treatment courts and specialized domestic violence courts, featuring the operating principles outlined below:
Screening and Assessment: Detailed psychosocial assessments of defendants and individualized treatment plans that match defendants to appropriate mental health, housing and other social services.

Judicial Monitoring: Regular and frequent court appearances to report to the judge and case managers on treatment progress, impressing upon the defendant the seriousness of the process.

Accountability: Graduated sanctions and rewards to respond to the defendant's compliance or non-compliance in treatment, with regular monitoring of treatment also keeping service providers accountable to the judge.

Coordinated Services: Cooperation with a broad network of government and not-for-profit service providers to address interrelated problems that defendants face, including substance abuse, homelessness, joblessness, and serious health problems.

Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye stated, "We have all heard the attention-grabbing headlines about crimes committed by mentally ill persons against average citizens while on their way to work, on a subway platform or in the streets. When mental illness is a factor in lawlessness and that fact is ignored, the result can be an unproductive recycling of the perpetrator through the criminal justice system time and again, with dire consequences to us all. Judges are now confronted with an unpalatable choice in these cases: either release the defendant back on to the streets to the peril of the community, or incarceration - often a way station to more severe illness, anti-social behavior and criminal activity. The Brooklyn Mental Health Court offers a third option, providing mentally ill individuals with the specialized attention they so desperately need, while at the same time protecting public safety. I would like to thank James Stone, commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health - a very special and important partner in this project - as well as Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes and the Brooklyn defense community for their support and contributions to this vital new court."

 "A recent study showed that 25 percent of defendants arraigned in Brooklyn suffered from a serious psychiatric disorder, and as many as 15,000 people in New York City jails are treated for serious mental disorders while incarcerated" noted Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman. "These statistics highlight the fact that mental illness is a reality the courts cannot ignore. Dedicating a court to the exclusive handling of cases involving mentally ill defendants, where the underlying psychosis driving the crime can be addressed, will make for more effective, long-term resolutions and lead to a reduction in the recidivism of defendants. The Brooklyn Mental Health Court will help ensure that those mentally ill defendants who do not pose a threat of violence receive effective treatment that gets them out of the criminal justice system once and for all."

Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes said, "The Mental Health Court is an idea whose time has come. As we have proven, with our highly successful DTAP (Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison) and TADD (Treatment Alternative to Prison for Dually Diagnosed Defendants) programs, it is possible to provide certain defendants with needed treatment while, at the same time, ensuring the safety of the community."

The Brooklyn Mental Health Court is being developed as a joint project of the New York state court system, the New York State Office of Mental Health and the Center for Court Innovation - the court system's research and development arm. The Office of Mental Health has provided $465,000 in funding to date. Other government and nonprofit partners involved in planning the Mental Health Court include the Kings County District Attorney's Office, The Legal Aid Society, the Brooklyn Defenders Service, the New York City Department of Mental Health, and numerous representatives of the mental health treatment community. The New York Community Trust, the United Hospital Fund and the Ittleson Foundation have also provided support for this project.

 Justice Matthew J. D'Emic is the Presiding Judge of the Brooklyn Mental Health Court