DA Hopeful Plans to Use Forfeiture Money to Fund Mental Health Services

(CITY LIMITS) November 27, 2020

Revelations about the abysmal treatment of mentally ill detainees created the political tide that is sweeping Rikers Island to the dustbin of history. As inmate counts have generally dropped in recent years, however, mental illness has grown increasingly present in city jails. Forty-five percent of people in city custody in fiscal year 2019 had a mental-health diagnosis, and 16.8 percent had a serious one–rates that have climbed in recent years.

On Tuesday a candidate for Manhattan district attorney unveiled a sweeping plan to change how mental illness is handled by cops, courts and corrections agencies. And he says he’s found a way to pay for it: the forfeiture money that prosecutors seize from financial institutions that run afoul of the law.

“The Manhattan DA’s office generates significant forfeitures through its investigations into illegal conduct by financial companies,” Janos Marton writes in a white paper. “Rather than waste these funds on paying for police expansion, I will use virtually all financial resources our office obtains from these forfeitures to fund community-based mental health programs.”

Marton is not the only DA candidate talking about the need to better address mental health. Diana Florence has called for “first response teams that exclude law enforcement and that are deployable by a dedicated emergency number” and “the establishment of diversion centers where people in mental health crises can be transported instead of detention or hospital emergency rooms.” Lucy Lang says she will impose “an explicit policy of declining to prosecute homelessness-related offenses, poverty-related offenses, and nonviolent crimes linked to substance abuse and/or mental health needs.” Tahane Aboushi and Eliza Orlins have vowed to stop prosecuting offenses linked to mental-health problems.

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