New York mayor plans to hospitalize mentally ill people involuntarily

Advocacy groups for civil rights groups and the homeless criticized mandate: ‘Mayor is playing fast and loose with the legal rights’

The mayor of New York City announced on Tuesday that he is ordering police and emergency services to more aggressively hospitalize those with mental illness who are on the streets, even if the hospitalization is involuntary and they pose no threat to other people.

Mayor Eric Adams’ directive would give outreach workers, city hospitals and first responders, including police, discretion to forcibly hospitalize anyone they deem as not “meeting their basic human needs, causing them to be a danger to themselves”, Adams told a news conference.

The mayor called the directive an attempt to clear up a “gray area where policy, law and accountability have not been clear”, adding that the mandate is “a moral obligation to act” in light of “a crisis we see all around us”.

“These New Yorkers and hundreds of others like them are in urgent need of treatment, yet often refuse it when offered,” said Adams.

“The very nature of their illnesses keeps them from realizing they need intervention and support. Without that intervention, they remain lost and isolated from society, tormented by delusions and disordered thinking. They cycle in and out of hospitals and jails.”

The Adams administration did not provide evidence that forced treatment is effective in treating mental illness or preventing crime.

Advocacy groups for civil rights groups and the homeless criticized the mayor’s mandate.

“The mayor is playing fast and loose with the legal rights of New Yorkers and is not dedicating the resources necessary to address the mental health crises that affect our communities,“ said Donna Lieberman, executive director the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“Forcing people into treatment is a failed strategy for connecting people to long-term treatment and care.”

The Coalition for the Homeless also denounced the mayor’s plan, saying the city should focus on expanding access to voluntary psychiatric treatment.

“Mayor Adams continues to get it wrong when it comes to his reliance on ineffective surveillance, policing and involuntary transport and treatment of people with mental illness,” said the coalition’s executive director, Jacquelyn Simone.

State law also generally limits the ability of authorities to force someone into a mental health facility unless they pose a danger to themselves or others.

But Adams called such limitations a “myth”, stating that the law does not require a person to be behaving in an “outrageously dangerous” or suicidal way before a police officer or medical worker could take action.

As part of its initiative, the city said it would open a phone line to allow police officers to consult with clinicians.

The mayor has also announced a subway safety plan and vowed to expand outreach teams, made up of clinicians and police officers. But critics called the plan a crackdown on the mentally ill and the homeless.

A spokesperson for the New York governor, Kathy Hochul, said the city’s plan builds on mutual efforts to increase capacity at psychiatric hospitals, as well as expand outreach teams in subways.


Gloria Oladipo in New York City

The GuardianTramp

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