The Intervention: Jail alternatives for adults with mental illness
Who is Served: Men and women detained at Rikers Island who have indications of mental illness
Jail has increasingly become a treatment facility of last resort for individuals with mental illness. In 2014, a report by the Mayor’s Task Force for Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System found that nearly 40% of people detained at Rikers Island correctional facility had mental health treatment needs.1 This was up from 33% in 2011, as reported by the Council of State Governments (CSG) based on NYC Department of Correction data.2 The CSG report also found that:
- All other factors being equal, defendants with mental health needs remain in jail roughly twice as long as those without mental health needs
- Protracted detention of people with mental health needs tends not to produce long-term psychiatric benefits, with the experience of detention at Rikers often aggravating their mental health conditions
- Both detention and release can inflict serious disruptions on a person’s ongoing treatment regimen
- All other factors being equal, people with mental health needs tend to return to jail twice as fast as individuals who do not need mental health treatment
The Manhattan CIRT Approach
In 2014, the Mayor’s Office for Criminal Justice—in collaboration with the NYC Departments of Correction and of Health and Mental Hygiene—created Court-based Intervention and Resource Teams (CIRTs) operating in each borough. Each CIRT targets men and women detained at Rikers Island who have symptoms of mental illness and can be safely supervised in the community. CIRT is structured both as an alternative to detention for people awaiting trial and as an alternative to incarceration for those facing short jail sentences.
CASES was selected by the City to operate CIRT in Manhattan. Eligibility for the program is determined by the NYC Department of Correction, judges, and prosecutors. CIRT services include:
- Behavioral health assessment
- Treatment planning
- Onsite individual case management and group counseling services
- Onsite psychiatric services for high-need clients
- Linkages to appropriate community-based treatment—including CASES’ Nathaniel Clinic—and service providers
- Court compliance monitoring and reporting
Program goals include helping participants 1) fulfill court requirements and thus avoid further detention or incarceration, 2) engage in behavioral health treatment, and 3) access other support needed to achieve stability in the community and avoid further criminal involvement.
In FY 2015, CIRT diverted 90 men and women with mental health needs from Rikers Island, with 69% of participants successfully completing the program and thus avoiding further detention or incarceration. Despite 70% of our FY 2015 CIRT participants being assessed as high risk by a City screening tool, 90% of all participants had no new arrest while in CASES CIRT services.