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Law for mentally ill ex-cons would help protect public

Mayor Bill de Blasio and first lady Charlene

Mayor Bill de Blasio and first lady Charlene McCray, accompanied by Pastor Michael Durso, right, place flowers at a makeshift memorial for slain NYPD Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant section on Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014. Durso leads Christ Tabernacle Church in Queens, where a wake for Ramos will be held Friday. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Mentally ill ex-convicts roaming the streets without medication or treatment is a nightmare scenario nobody wants.

The execution of NYPD Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu is just the latest example of the sort of tragedy that can result when that's allowed to happen.

Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the man who shot the two NYPD officers on Dec. 20 before putting a bullet in his own brain, didn't do prison time in New York. But his family confirmed a history of mental illness, hospitalization and medication, though apparently not since his July 2013 release from a Georgia prison where he did two years for criminal possession of a weapon.

Changing the law in New York to ensure follow-up care wouldn't have helped in his case. But there are still plenty of reasons to do it. The New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision says that about 8,663 of the state's 54,142 prison inmates in January 2014 were diagnosed as mentally ill. About 3,000 mentally ill inmates are released each year without a discharge evaluation, according to a spokesman for Sen. Catharine Young (R-Olean), the sponsor of legislation to help the ex-convicts and protect residents.

Young's Prisoners Mental Health Planning Bill has passed the State Legislature and is awaiting action by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo before a Dec. 29 deadline. He should sign it.

The bill would require inmates in treatment for mental illness to receive a discharge plan that includes an appointment with a mental health professional and, when appropriate, enough medication to last at least until that first visit. The bill would also authorize parole officers to refer mentally ill ex-cons to a hospital for evaluation.

Those mandates should improve public safety, reduce costly recidivism, improve the quality of life for countless sick people and their families and hopefully help prevent outrages like the senseless deaths of two good cops.

Alvin Bessent is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

 

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