Health care over jail time, says councilman
A new proposal from a Brooklyn councilmember would bring critical health services into courthouses citywide in an effort to reduce the number of people sent to jail.
Councilmember Stephen Levin introduced legislation Thursday that would provide health screenings for criminal suspects awaiting arraignment. The screenings could identify behavioral and physical health issues, opening up alternatives to incarceration that can be more effective and more taxpayer-friendly.
The bill would extend what are known as Enhanced Pre-Arraignment Screening Units (EPASUs) — which already exist in Manhattan — to all five boroughs.
After a health screening, social workers could share information from the screening with defense lawyers, who could seek diversionary options — such as treatment for addiction, psychiatric services and community-based social services – instead of incarceration for their clients.
“We have seen the success of the EPASU model: Clinicians are able to assess acute health needs for individuals before they enter the correctional system and diversion liaisons are able to pull critical health data for attorneys and judges to make informed diversion decisions,” Levin said.
In the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, Pre-Arraignment Screening Units (PASU) already exist. PASUs only have emergency medical technicians working, who cannot administer medication. Using EPASUs, nurses would be able to diagnose and prescribe medication for common ailments.
In Manhattan, these added facilities led to about 600 fewer trips to the hospital for arrested people with medical issues, according to a Vera Institute of Justice study that evaluated Manhattan’s EPASU over an 18-month span.
EPASUs would also employ a social worker who would identify behavioral health needs and reach out to community service providers.
“For too long, a lack of capacity and resources have allowed people with physical and behavioral health issues to get funneled through our bloated justice system without opportunities to seek pre-arraignment treatment and diversion,” said Leah Pope, senior research fellow at the Vera Institute of Justice.
Levin sees the expansion of EPASUs as a way to further reduce the city’s already dropping incarcerated population. “As New York City works to close Rikers Island, we need to do everything we can to divert people out of jail who are there unnecessarily and connect people to treatment and community supports that work,” Levin said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $11 billion borough-based jail plan to close Rikers Island by 2027 includes rebuilding the Brooklyn Detention Complex, an 11-story, 170-foot-tall jail in Levin’s district.
The proposed Brooklyn jail would be 40-stories and more than twice the size of the existing jail, according to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.
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