States can keep the public, patients, and police safer while saving money for taxpayers.
Earlier this month, Andrew Goldstein was released from Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, N.Y. He’d spent 19 years behind bars for pushing Kendra Webdale to her death in front of a subway train during a period when his schizophrenia was not being treated.
Kendra lost her life, Andrew lost his freedom, and commuters learned to stand back from the subway tracks. But a law that came out of Kendra Webdale’s tragedy taught states how they can keep the public, patients, and police safer while saving money for taxpayers.
The law is technically known as assisted outpatient treatment (AOT). In New York it was named after Ms. Webdale and called Kendra’s Law. The notoriety of her pushing, combined with the well-researched and inarguable success of the program in New York, caused at least nine other states to make changes to their own AOT laws or enact them if they didn’t have one.
These laws were also named after victims. Kentucky enacted “Tim’s Law,” California enacted “Laura’s Law,” New Jersey enacted “Gregory’s Law,” and on it goes. While 47 states now have AOT — Connecticut, Maryland, and Massachusetts being the exceptions — no state makes sufficient use of it. They should.
Assisted outpatient treatment is the practice of delivering outpatient treatment under court order to a small, highly targeted population: adults with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder who meet specific criteria, such as repeated past hospitalizations, violence, or arrests due to their failure to comply with treatment. AOT allows judges to require these individuals to stay in closely monitored treatment for up to a year, while they continue to live in the community.
DJ Jaffe is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institue, executive director of Mental Illness Policy Org., and author of Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill.