Justice Matt D’Emic announced as co-chair of statewide judicial task force on mental illness
Chief Judge Rowan Wilson was in Brooklyn on Wednesday for a courthouse event, but it turns out that he may have also been there to meet with his new co-chair of statewide initiative.
Chief Judge Wilson, along with Chief Administrative Judge Joseph Zayas, announced on Thursday a new leadership team for the New York State Judicial Task Force on Mental Illness. The task force is a statewide initiative committed to reforming how the judicial system manages individuals with behavioral health issues.
Hon. Matthew D’Emic, administrative judge for criminal matters in Kings County Supreme Court, will chair the task force. He is joined by co-chair Hon. Jacqueline Sisson, a Canandaigua City Court judge and acting Ontario Family and County Court judge.
“I am delighted that Judge D’Emic, who served on the national task force on mental illness, will continue this important work and, with co-chair Judge Sisson, will spearhead our extensive, statewide undertaking as we seek to effect systemic reforms, from improving diversion to treatment practices, to developing comprehensive training for judges and non-judicial personnel, to building stronger bridges with the courts’ partner agencies as well as between our local courts and communities throughout the State,” Chief Judge Wilson said in the announcement on Thursday.
The announcement falls in line with national efforts, particularly the work of the Conferences of Chief Justices and State Court Administrators’ National Judicial Task Force, which has already issued expansive recommendations on the role of state courts in addressing mental health.
This state task force will build on that groundwork to focus on justice-involved children, youth and adults with behavioral health disorders, including those with serious mental illness and co-occurring disorders.
“The vast majority of our nation’s incarcerated individuals suffer from mental illness, have a substance use disorder or both,” Chief Judge Wilson said. “The prevalence of mental illness cannot be overstated, nor can its enormous impact on every aspect of our court system, including our criminal, civil and family courts.
“The mandate of the New York State Judicial Task Force on Mental Illness is crucial to our efforts to develop more humane, effective approaches in addressing the needs of justice-involved individuals, children and families affected by mental illness, trauma and substance abuse, by replacing carceral approaches in cases where those are both expensive and ineffective.”
Judge D’Emic is not new to this arena: He has presided over the state’s first mental health court in Brooklyn and was a member of the national task force. Similarly, Judge Sisson leads a mental health treatment court in northern New York. Both are uniquely qualified to guide the efforts of the diverse and deeply experienced task force panel, which includes judges, lawyers, and mental health experts from around the state.
“I am grateful to Chief Judge Wilson and Chief Administrative Judge Zayas for the opportunity to advance ways to serve those with serious mental illness, and their families, always recognizing that justice must look higher than its reach,” said Judge D’Emic.
Judge Sisson also welcomed her role enthusiastically, noting her firsthand experience with the need for such initiatives in Upstate New York.
The task force will aim for systemic reforms that extend from improving diversion to treatment practices and training for judicial and non-judicial personnel. It also seeks to strengthen collaborations with partner agencies and local communities, in an effort to create a more humane, effective system for all.
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