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Rikers Island Struggles With Record Mental Illness Numbers

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TWC News: Rikers Island Struggles With Record Mental Illness Numbers
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While the number of inmates held on Rikers Island is decreasing, the number of prisoners with a mental illness is at an all-time high. NY1’s Courtney Gross filed the following report.

According to the Department of Correction, the number of inmates on Rikers Island that have been diagnosed with a mental illness is at an all-time high.

Overall, one in three prisoners and 60 percent of the female population on Rikers are mentally ill, and the number is climbing.

While the average population on Rikers declines, these men and women keep coming back.

"One out of every two inmates with mental health issues is returning within 12 months, a third of the inmates in the system have mental health issues and those that are returning are staying three times as long as others," said Steven Banks of the Legal Aid Society.

In response, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration set up a taskforce this week to come up with a strategy to get them help.

Dora Schriro, the city's corrections commissioner, said they will examine how to deal with this challenging population.

"While they’re in jail, they tend to be a very impulsive, pretty spontaneous population, and so their offenses in jail are rarely premeditated, but when they occur they can really be quite devastating," said Schriro.

At the same time, advocates question why the city wants to end court-appointed monitoring of its discharge planning for these same inmates, the product of a decade-old lawsuit with the Urban Justice Center.

"Frankly, I am a little surprised that they are on the one hand creating this task force which sounds really promising and at the same time opposing the extension of the settlement agreement that requires them to provide services,” said Jennifer Parish of the Urban Justice Center.

The commissioner explained her stance.

"The goal is to divert as many on the front end, to intervene successfully as many as we can in the middle and when we release those at the end, at the end of their detention or their sentence, that we see them less frequently, ideally we never see them again," said Schriro.

At the Anna M. Kross Center on Rikers Island, half of the 2,400 inmates have been diagnosed with a mental illness. It's these inmates that the steering committee is responding to. They will meet three more times and plan to adopt recommendations next spring.

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