Legislators seek to make Kendra’s Law permanent

Kendra Webdale. Photo courtesy of NBC news

Nearly 20 years ago, 32 year old Kendra Webdale was tragically pushed in front of a subway train by a man with untreated schizophrenia roaming the streets of New York City. Now, lawmakers are looking to pass a bill that would prevent Kendra’s Law, which provides services for the mentally ill from expiring.

State Senator Catharine Young, R-Olean, and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-Forestburgh, are sponsoring a bill (S.516/A.604) they claim will protect the public, while vastly improving the quality of life for those grappling with severe mental illness.

The bill has passed in the Senate and would codify Kendra’s Law, enacted in 1999, and make its provisions permanent, stopping the law from expiring on June 30, 2017.

Kendra’s Law allows for court-ordered Assisted Outpatient Treatment for individuals who won’t voluntarily seek help, but are a safety threat. Specifically, the new bill would codify the current system by:

  • Ensuring those who move will receive their treatment;
  • Evaluating patients that are released from inpatient treatment or incarceration;
  • Requiring counties to notify the Office of Mental Health when an assisted outpatient is missing;
  • Requiring the Commissioner of the Office of Mental Health to develop an educational pamphlet for families looking to petition for the treatment

“Too frequently, the heart-wrenching consequences of people suffering from mental illness without receiving needed care and support becomes apparent at devastating costs,” Young said. “By strengthening and permanently implementing Kendra’s Law, people with profound mental illness will get the court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment they need to prevent violence, suicide and incarcerations.”

Young also says that not all people with mental illness are violent, but when severe psychiatric issues go untreated, it can become a major contributing factor in violence or suicides.

Since Kendra’s Law was enacted, studies found violent patients who were given mandatory outpatient treatment were four times less likely than members of a control group to perpetrate serious violence after undergoing treatment, as explained in the bill’s justification.

The studies also found less frequent psychiatric hospitalizations, shorter lengths of hospitalizations, reductions in the likelihood of arrest, higher social functioning, less stigma and no increase in perceived coercion.

“This law will protect the public while vastly improving the quality of life for those grappling with severe mental illness,” Young said.