Letter: Young adults in jail need consistent and appropriate mental health care

The entrance to Rikers Island, where young adults are completing only about half of their scheduled mental health treatment appointments.  Eagle  file photo by David Brand.

The entrance to Rikers Island, where young adults are completing only about half of their scheduled mental health treatment appointments. Eagle file photo by David Brand.

Re: Young adults in city jails miss half of their mental health appointments, Queens Daily Eagle, Aug. 5, 2019

The Board of Correction report revealing that young adults incarcerated in New York City only attend about half their mental health treatment appointments is troubling on a number of levels. Not only is it inhumane to punish someone for having a mental illness, but we’re sending these people to places that are profoundly unprepared to deal with a mental health crisis. 

So many young people are involved in the criminal justice system as a result of mental health concerns, which are often the consequence of traumatic experiences. Their incarceration leads to further traumatic experiences, only making matters worse. How can we expect to reduce recidivism when we’re compounding the issues that got them incarcerated to begin with, and not giving them the services they need to address the challenges in their lives?

Stigma around mental health is still very real. If a young person in prison is willing to try and overcome that stigma, their level of need is probably quite high; and we should be doing all we can to encourage them to seek treatment. Instead they’re being denied. 

We must ensure that young people in prison receive consistent and appropriate mental health care. Mental illness is not a crime and the Department of Correction must take action immediately to ensure they are providing required health services to those in its care. 

David Woodlock is president and CEO of the Institute for Community Living. He is the former deputy commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health.