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Money to Fund Mental Health Care on Rikers Included in City Budget

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TWC News: Money to Fund Mental Health Care on Rikers Included in City Budget
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A surprise addition to the city's budget deal last month was millions of dollars more in funding for mental health care on Rikers Island. NY1's Courtney Gross visited Rikers to take a closer look at exactly where that money is going.

There is some remodeling going on at Rikers Island.

"It's a unit that's under construction now to open as mental observation housing," said Erik Berliner of the Department of Correction.

The construction is to address the jail's new population, the 39 percent of inmates who have mental illness.

"We really need to make sure that we're able to provide comprehensive intervention for those individuals," said Anthony Waters of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

It's caught the attention of public officials, and some argue caused a spike in violence, such as a violent attack by an inmate caught on tape.

So as part of the city budget deal last month, more than $32 million is being sent to cell blocks.

"These resources is going to be an enormous opportunity for us to make the place safer and also to provide better clinical care, which is everybody's goal," Berliner said.

The city will create four specialized mental health units.

Officials say severely mentally ill inmates housed here will have access to health care all day, every day.

Services, like medication, will be brought in. Group therapy sessions will be held in separate rooms, steps away from individual cells. Those rooms are complete with a panic button.

The block gets remodeled to prevent suicides. For one, beds are bolted to the wall.

On top of the new units, the city will hire about 60 new mental health professionals and require more training for corrections officers. They are also taking 250 of the most violent inmates and segregating them from the general population.

Some of these changes have advocates skeptical but optimistic.

"We need services and treatment and real medical staff there," said Five Mualimm-ak of the Incarcerated Nation Campaign.

The new units are scheduled to be open before the fall, and city officials have not ruled out expanding these types of services even more as they continue to address the changing population on Rikers Island.

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