NYS Announces New Judicial Task Force on Mental Illness

October 31, 2023

By Jill K. Sanders, Esq.

New York has had mental health courts for more than two decades. In this type of treatment court, individuals living with mental illness can be linking with court-supervised, community-based treatment while their cases are adjudicated. Last week, the state announced a new judicial task force charged with implementing reforms to more effectively address the behavioral health issues of justice-involved individuals.


The Task Force’s Purpose

The new panel draws its assignment from the work done by the National Judicial Task Force to Examine State Courts’ Response to Mental Illness. Last year, the national panel issued a report which found that state courts and judicial leaders can play a unique role in closing the gap between behavioral health and justice systems to address the needs of individuals with mental illness who are involved in the criminal legal system.

Now, New York has formed this new panel which will examine the current landscape. The panel will also seek to advance improvements to the system’s responses to children, youth, and adults with behavioral health disorders. Additionally, it will examine the need to more effectively address the criminal legal system’s treatment of those with serious mental illness and co-occurring disorders

As New York State’s Chief Judge Rowan D. Wilson poignantly stated, “The vast majority of our nation’s incarcerated individuals suffer from mental illness, have a substance use disorder or both. 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.”


Task Force Leadership and Members

Judge Matthew D’Emic, administrative judge for criminal matters in Kings County Supreme Court, will lead the new judicial task force. Additionally, the co-chair will be Judge Jacqueline Sisson, who serves in Canandaigua City Court and as an acting Ontario family and county court judge. Moreover, there will be other members including judges, lawyers, mental health experts, and others from around the state. By working together, they will bring experience, diversity, and a wealth of knowledge to the panel.

As the panels members are all around the state, they will work at the community level to map out resources and identify gaps. Hopefully, this will enable a more effective response to the needs of individuals in the criminal legal system. The overall goal will be to treat individuals holistically and to provide them with the tools and resources they need to succeed. Additionally, the panel will promote the involvement of peers and the incorporation of the voices of people with lived experience.




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