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Let’s Make Kendra’s Law Permanent … and Enforce It

In 1999, Kendra Webdale was waiting for an N train at the 23rd Street subway station under Broadway. Suffering from schizophrenia and not taking his medications, Andrew Goldstein pushed Kendra onto the tracks into the path of the train as it arrived. In response to this fatal incident and other incidents of violence committed by mentally ill individuals, then-governor George Pataki made Kendra’s Law the law in New York; at least temporarily.

Kendra’s Law requires mentally ill people with a seriously violent or threatening behavioral history to be involuntarily hospitalized if they do not comply with court-ordered treatment. While it sounds like the right thing to do, both for the protection of the public and for the protection of the patients, it has been opposed by some as being ineffective, racially biased, socioeconomically biased and/or inhibiting to those who otherwise would seek voluntary treatment.

Now, new research has shown that Kendra’s Law has had positive results. Researchers at Duke University studied records from 634 subjects and found that patients were 56 percent less likely to be hospitalized in the two years following an involuntary hospitalization than they were in the year prior to the court-ordered hospitalization. The Duke study follows a 2005 study by New York’s Office of Mental Health, which found that within six months following a Kendra’s Law court order for involuntary hospitalization, mentally ill patients were:

  • 83 percent less likely to be arrested
  • 87 percent less likely to be incarcerated
  • 77 percent less likely to be hospitalized again
  • 74 percent less likely to be homeless

Yet Kendra’s Law is not permanent or uniformly enforced. It was initially enacted with an expiration date, which has been extended several times. It presently is set to expire in 2017.

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