Lifetime Achievement Award for Brooklyn judge championing mental health reform
A beacon in the realm of mental health and criminal justice, Brooklyn Mental Health Court Justice Matthew D’Emic, has been presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Judges and Psychiatrists Leadership Initiative.
The award pays tribute to his tireless work over the past two decades to improve outcomes for people grappling with behavioral health issues who are involved with the criminal justice system.
“It was a very pleasant surprise,” said Justice D’Emic, who serves as the administrative judge of the Kings County Supreme Court, Criminal Term. “And I’m happy to see that mental illness in criminal justice is in the forefront of this recognition.”
The Brooklyn Mental Health Court, under the guidance of Judge D’Emic, has been pivotal in keeping individuals suffering from severe mental illnesses out of jail and in treatment for over 20 years. As the first of its kind in New York State, the program’s success has ignited the development of special court programs for people with mental illness nationwide.
Judge D’Emic has been a fixture in the court since its establishment in 2002, spearheading the innovative approach of offering individuals with mental illnesses an alternative to jail by committing to treatment. Under his watch, more than 1,300 people have graduated from the program to date.
The judge illustrated the work of the court with compelling stories of the lives it has transformed, such as a college student diagnosed with schizophrenia after his arrest for robbery. The student successfully completed the court’s treatment program, avoided a lengthy prison sentence, and is now pursuing a master’s degree in graphic design, having stayed out of trouble for two decades.
Similarly, a middle-aged woman, also diagnosed with schizophrenia and facing a potential life sentence, managed to turn her life around through the court’s program. She landed an internship at a bakery while enrolled in the court and transitioned into a full-time baker upon graduating.
“These are not isolated stories,” Judge D’Emic noted. “There are countless others, and each of the participants has affected my life.”
The mental health court is a stark contrast to traditional prosecution, where those with mental health issues would most likely face jail time, exacerbating their mental health struggles. Thanks to the efforts of Judge D’Emic and his team, many instead are living fulfilling lives in their communities, fostering a positive impact on themselves and those around them.
Whippoorwill Appearance At The Wicked Monk
In order to protect his own mental health, Justice D’Emic regularly plays in the classic rock cover band Whippoorwill in and around Brooklyn. On Sunday, June 11, starting at 5 p.m., the judge will perform alongside bandmates John Lepore and Paul Cassone at the Wicked Monk in Bay Ridge.
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