Shrinking State Budgets and Mental-health Facilities

by on

Below is from the New York Times of November 10, 2010:

“The agencies that run prisons and mental health facilities also employ the largest number of state workers of any departments of government under direct control of the governor, part of a work force that Mr. Cuomo may be forced to trim, or demand significant concessions from, to plug the state’s projected $8 billion deficit for next year.

“Mr. Cuomo used his visit to lay out some of the budget challenges that he will face in the months ahead, particularly when it comes to the billions of dollars a year that New York spends to run its own operations, a major component of the state budget.

“More prisons were opened under Mr. Cuomo’s father than under any other governor in New York history, as high crime rates and 1970s-era mandatory sentencing laws drove significant growth in the state prison population. On Wednesday, Governor-elect Cuomo argued that with the prison population now shrinking, it was time to think about shrinking the number of prisons, too.

“’On the prison side, the census is dropping; that’s good news,’ Mr. Cuomo said. ‘We are locking up fewer people. But then you need fewer facilities. And the shrinkage of that system is going to be something that has to be thought through and managed.’”

The American Mental Health Foundation urges the Governor-Elect to move with caution in the closing of any mental-health facility, whether connected with prisons like Sing Sing or any other outside the correctional field.

We remember all too well the severe impact of similar closings, in the 1980s, on urban centers like New York City, when individuals with severe mental disorders and addictions flooded the streets in an epidemic of homelessness. AMHF author Dr. Raymond B. Flannery Jr. has been a keen observer and critic of similar budget cuts on the national level, wherein the workload on remaining staff can bring them to the breaking point. Although his book The Violent Person does not concentrate on public policy, instead centering on professionals on the front lines, it is not a stretch to regard the implications for and to society of budget slashing among psychiatric-rehab programs and of related staff.

We at AMHF, as charitable guardians of the public weal, recognize the issue of fiscal restraint is a combustible one; but we urge the impact of cost-cutting, that any knee-jerk proposals or action in this regard be carefully and responsibly weighed by our newly elected officials, along with those returning to office, for its inevitable impact on quality of life.

Filed under: