Legal Aid and DRNY File Class Action Lawsuit Against NYS Over Practice of Keeping New Yorkers With Mental Illness Incarcerated Past Their Release Dates

Plaintiffs Have Languished in Prison for as Long as 16 Months Past Release Dates

The Legal Aid Society and Disability Rights New York filed a lawsuit today in the United States District Court for the Southern District on behalf of a class of New Yorkers with mental illness who have been held in prison because of a lack of community-based mental health housing programs. Some Plaintiffs have been incarcerated for as long as 16 months past their release dates.

Plaintiffs are ready to be released from prison to community-based health housing. These plaintiffs have either fully completed their sentences or reached their approved parole dates, yet are still incarcerated, forced to live in prison, wear standard uniforms, and eat meals in the mess hall. Some have even been subjected to solitary confinement.

The New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) has already determined that the named plaintiffs should be released to supportive housing or similar residences in the community. But because the State has failed to ensure the necessary capacity in community-based mental health housing, they languish in prison, awaiting a placement.

“Our clients have either reached their release date or fully completed their sentences, and have every right to reintegrate with their families and communities. It’s shameful that New York State keeps them in prison simply because they have mental illnesses and need supportive housing,” said Stefen Short, Staff Attorney with the Prisoners’ Rights Project at The Legal Aid Society. “This is an abhorrent practice, and New York must end it immediately, and provide our clients with the resources to facilitate their release.”

“Our clients are told, often on the day they expect to be released from prison, that they will not be leaving and must stay until community housing is located,” said Timothy Clune, Executive Director DRNY. “Further, documents produced by the Defendants show that New York State is well aware of the shortage of mental health housing for this population. Instead of addressing this shortage the State has been ignoring the problem and our clients.”

The Legal Aid Society and Disability Rights New York bring this lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction requiring New York to create an effective plan for community integration, which includes developing a sufficient array of community-based mental health housing for these individuals who have been approved for parole or completed their criminal sentences.