January 30, 2022. Reprinted from NYAPRS ENews and The Daily News
Coercion Is Not The Answer To NYC’s Mental Health Crisis: Stepping Up Kendra’s Law Would Be A Grave Mistake
By Harvey Rosenthal New York Daily News Op-ed January 30, 2022
The New York City mental health community is horrified by the tragic murder of Michelle Go. We abhor such violence, especially since people with mental illness are 11 times more likely than the general population to be the victims of violent crime.
In reaching for solutions, we must not make matters worse. Vilifying people with serious mental illnesses as violent individuals who should be swept off of the streets and forced to accept treatments that have failed them in the past will do more harm than good.
Flawed studies purport to show that Kendra’s Law, court-mandated outpatient commitment orders, is responsible for improvements in the lives of people living with serious mental illness. But they fail to make a scientific comparison between involuntary and alternative voluntary models. Further, as the primary author of one such study has noted, “people who understand what outpatient commitment is would never say this is a violence prevention strategy.”
It is particularly outrageous how Kendra’s Law has been levied against people of color — a reactive approach in lieu of more engaging preventative and culturally competent care. Since the program’s start in 1999, 77% of Kendra’s Law-authorized court orders have involved Black and Hispanic people in New York City, further criminalizing mental illness and disincentivizing people from seeking out community-based supports that could have made a difference before a crisis ever occurs.
We should adamantly reject forced treatment and involuntary confinement in favor of proven strategies of outreach and engagement that promote long-term recovery and respect people’s rights and dignity.