We asked our subscribers to send us their budget-related questions. We’ll answer a question each week.
Melanie M. Bishop asked: I heard a lot in the governor’s State of the State about her tough-on-crime stances and funding for district attorneys’ offices, and also increasing access to mental health services. I am wondering if her budget will include funds to our prisons and jails so that there is actual mental health treatment in those facilities. And programming, including access to programming as soon as one enters the facilities so that when they re-enter, they are no longer a threat to society, but can re-integrate in a positive way.
The governor has indeed proposed ramping up funding for police and prosecutors — as she has during every budget cycle since she entered office — particularly to combat gun violence. This year, she wants to keep gun policing spending levels up, while also beefing up enforcement of retail theft and domestic violence. As we reported this week, her retail theft plan mirrors her gun plans: more street policing, more surveillance, more prosecutors, tougher penalties.
Both in this year’s budget proposal and her last two, Hochul has focused a lot on re-entry, or helping people move from incarceration back into broader society. Much of that relies on surveillance: Half of the $6 million she wants to add to the state’s efforts to “support re-entry and reduce recidivism” this year would go toward gathering intelligence and data on parolees. But she also wants to add $2 million to transitional housing programs for recently released people and expand the prison system’s college programming.
And yes, Hochul has proposed a kitchen sink initiative to combat what she calls “the mental health crisis,” including expanding services to people charged with crimes. But there doesn’t appear to be anything in it that addresses the lack of adequate mental health treatment in prisons. The state prison system often touts its vast array of specialized mental health facilities, but by all accounts, the care is abysmal: One of the most common complaints I hear from incarcerated people and their loved ones is that people suffering from mental health crises are subjected to brutality and neglect.
Take the recent case of Alex Mirzaoff. He was sent to prison specifically to get mental health treatment, but his condition only worsened there — to the point where he couldn’t gather himself enough to play a card game with his parents when they visited.
Even though Hochul hasn’t promised better services in prisons and jails, we’re interested in what else she has in store for mental health. Keep an eye on our budget coverage as we unpack her sweeping, multi-pronged plan.
—Chris Gelardi, New York Focus criminal justice reporter