Legislation: Make Kendra’s Law permanent

In 1999, Andrew Goldstein, then 29, while off his medication, pushed Fredonia native Kendra Webdale to her death in front of an oncoming train at the 23rd Street station in New York City.

Her death prompted discussions about what to do with regarding individuals with untreated mental illness becoming violent.

That sparked the creation of Kendra’s Law, which allows courts to order certain seriously mentally ill individuals to accept treatment as a condition for living in the community.

It was temporarily enacted to see how it would work. It is time for the State Legislature to make the law permanent.

State Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, proposed legislation approved last week in the state Senate to make Kendra’s Law permanent. When, Kendra’s Law was passed in 1999 it was on a trial basis. It’s been reauthorized twice since then.

More than 4,000 New York residents are treated each year under Kendra’s Law. A recent report of state data by the The Manhattan Institute showed the program has reduced the rate of hospitalization among those under court order by more than 60 percent and the rate of both incarceration and homelessness by around 70 percent.

Kendra’s Law has come under fire from advocates and the New York Civil Liberties Union, who say it as an invasion of rights that stigmatizes those with mental illnesses. The law is neither of those things. Allowing courts to mandate treatment for those who will not voluntarily seek treatment has kept people out of hospitals and jails while helping them improve their quality of life, playing a role in protecting public safety by helping those whose illness may make them prone to violence. Young’s legislation not only makes Kendra’s Law permanent, it strengthens the legislation by providing more extensive followup to those who move while they are in assisted outpatient treatment to make sure they continue their treatment; mandates an evaluation for treatment when mental health patients are released from inpatient treatment or incarceration from a non-state facility so those who need services continue to receive them; requires counties to notify when an assisted outpatient is missing and unavailable for an evaluation; and continues education efforts.

The state Assembly has reauthorized Kendra’s Law twice before, an action it likely wouldn’t have taken if Kendra’s Law was as flawed as some groups claim. A nearly 20-year history is long enough to determine Kendra’s Law has worked as intended. It should be permanently written into state law.