CEO Note: A Weekend of Tragedy & Hope as CASES Joins Mayoral Summit

On Saturday, there was more terrible news from Rikers Island: Erick Tavira, a 28-year-old New Yorker, was found unresponsive with a sheet wrapped around his neck in a mental health observation unit at Rikers Island. His was the 17th death at Rikers this year, the sixth since mid-August. In a grim milestone, this is the most deaths in City jails since 2013. Almost all of the individuals who have died at Rikers have been Black and Brown men, many experiencing health conditions including serious mental illnesses.One of the most incomprehensible details of Mr. Tavira’s death is that he had been jailed while awaiting trial since June 2021. Estimates by the NYC Comptroller indicate that the 16 months spent by Mr. Tavira in New York City jails cost taxpayers more than $650,000.Mr. Tavira was found while a group of leading criminal legal system stakeholders gathered with Mayor Eric Adams for the first of a two-day summit with the stated goal to “identify actionable solutions to ensure that New Yorkers get the safety and justice they deserve out of the criminal justice system.” The summit included the City’s District Attorneys, representatives of Legal Aid and public defense, and correctional and police leadership. CASES was one of two nonprofit service providers to be represented, with Chief Impact Officer Ann-Marie Louison specifically invited to share about opportunities to enhance and scale CASES’ solutions for people living with serious mental illnesses who are involved in the criminal legal system.CASES programs operating at the intersection of unmet mental health need and the criminal legal system have won national recognition, including the 2021 Mutual of America Company Foundation National Community Partnership Award and the first-ever Recovery Innovation Challenge Award of US Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration in 2022. CASES’ work to specifically support recovery of New Yorkers living with serious mental illnesses and impacted by the criminal legal system dates back to 2000 and the launch of the Nathaniel Project as innovative multiyear alternative-to-incarceration (ATI) program.Co-founded by Ann-Marie, the Nathaniel Project—now operated as a State-licensed, Medicaid-funded Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) ATI—was named for a man whose schizophrenia went undiagnosed and untreated as he cycled in and out of courtrooms, jails, and prisons for 15 years. Now long in recovery and living independently in Upper Manhattan, following his work with the CASES team, Nathaniel has secured housing and had no contact with the criminal legal system for many years. Nathaniel’s story has always been one of tragedy and hope for those of us at CASES—the terrible 15 years he spent churning through the criminal legal system and the healing and recovery that have followed.CASES is grateful to Mayor Adams for his engagement and commitment to improving the City’s criminal legal system and to delivering justice for all New Yorkers. As we grieve and as we hope, the CASES team will continue our close work in communities citywide with some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers.With that commitment in mind, I’ll end this note by sharing the first names of the 17 people who have died at Rikers Island this year: Erick, Robert, Gregory, Kevin, Michael N., Ricardo, Michael L., Elijah, Albert, Anibal, Antonio, Emanuel, Mary, Dashawn, Herman, George, and Tarz.

Yours in the grieving, the work, and the hope,

Jonathan McLean