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Concerns rise over mental health bed reductions in NYC jail construction plans

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A city councilman has sounded the alarm over a significant reduction in proposed mental health beds at the new jail under construction on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, warning of potential repercussions for the city’s ability to care for mentally ill inmates once Rikers Island is shuttered.

Councilman Lincoln Restler, representing downtown Brooklyn, expressed grave concerns during a hearing with city Health and Hospital officials regarding the scaling back of mental health facilities within the Brooklyn detention center. Originally slated to accommodate 44% of beds for mentally ill patients, the latest plans indicate a drastic reduction to only 22% of beds designated for this critical population.

Restler’s apprehension stems from the fact that a majority of inmates currently incarcerated at Rikers Island require mental health treatment, estimated at 55% of the total population.

The councilman emphasized that diminishing the provision of mental health resources within the new Brooklyn facility poses a significant risk to the well-being and care of vulnerable individuals.

“To go from 55% of total people with mental health needs to only 22% of the beds actually designed to meet those needs is a recipe for disaster,” Restler emphasized during the hearing, highlighting the potential challenges and inadequacies in addressing mental health within the city’s correctional system.

The councilman’s concerns reflect broader anxieties about the transition away from Rikers Island and the city’s preparedness to manage the complex needs of incarcerated individuals, particularly those struggling with mental illness. The reduction in mental health beds raises questions about the city’s commitment to providing adequate care and support for this vulnerable population.

As New York City progresses toward closing Rikers Island and reconfiguring its correctional infrastructure, the allocation of resources and facilities for mental health treatment emerges as a critical priority. Restler’s scrutiny underscores the imperative to uphold standards of care and ensure that the new facilities adequately address the mental health challenges prevalent among the incarcerated population.

The outcome of this debate will not only shape the future of correctional healthcare in New York City but also determine the city’s capacity to uphold humane and effective practices in criminal justice reform.

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