ALBANY - Following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., state Sen. Catharine Young, R-C-I-Olean, has renewed her call for strengthening New York's Kendra's Law to ensure people with mental illness receive proper treatment.
"Obviously, Adam Lanza was a deeply disturbed person who needed help. There is no other explanation for why he would murder 20 angelic children and the six adults who were trying to protect them," Sen. Young said. "Lanza's mother, Nancy Lanza, reportedly was preparing to commit him to a psychiatric facility because she apparently realized he had decompensated to a dangerous level. If Kendra's Law had been passed in Connecticut, perhaps it would have allowed Ms. Lanza to intervene with her son earlier, before the situation reached a boiling point and he acted out in such a heinous way," she said. "The current system is flawed, even in New York. Why should we allow people with the most severe psychiatric disturbances who pose a risk to themselves or others to deteriorate before they get help? Why should we wait until they become a safety threat? It doesn't make sense. Strengthening Kendra's Law would save victims," she said.
Sen. Young said a measure similar to Kendra's Law failed to pass the Connecticut state legislature earlier in 2012. She said studies have shown assisted outpatient treatment is an effective tool in stopping people with mental illness from doing harm to themselves and others.
Kendra's Law was signed by Gov. George Pataki in 1999, and allows for court ordered assisted outpatient treatment for individuals who voluntarily won't seek help but are a safety threat. The law is designed to prevent serious harm to the mentally ill person or others, but gaps exist in the New York system that must be fixed to make it more effective, according to Sen. Young.
Kendra's Law is named in honor of Kendra Webdale, who grew up in Fredonia. On January 3, 1999, a man with a long history of schizophrenia stepped onto a busy subway platform in New York City and abruptly pushed Webdale, 32, a journalist and photographer, in front of a 400-ton train at the 23rd Street subway station. Witnesses would later testify her attacker, 29-year-old Andrew Goldstein, did not flee the scene. Instead, stopping just feet from the subway exit, Goldstein quietly stated, "I'm crazy. I'm psychotic. Take me to the hospital."
Earlier this year, the Connecticut state legislature reportedly rejected a bill similar to Kendra's Law that was proposed to enhance the care and treatment of persons with psychiatric disabilities through assisted outpatient treatment. According to CBS Connecticut, had the bill passed, it would have given the state the right to require treatment for a person with mental illness if there were evidence to believe the individual could be a danger to himself or the community.
A 2009 Duke University study showed that assisted outpatient treatment significantly reduces physical harm to others. The study also showed it vastly improves the quality of life for people with severe mental illness by reducing suicide attempts, hospitalizations, incarcerations, homelessness, and alcohol and drug abuse.
"Untreated mental illness is a major factor in far too many acts of violence, whether someone opens fire on a classroom or shopping mall, shoves a person in front of a subway train, or stabs another individual," Sen. Young said. "While those suffering from mental illness also are far too frequently the victims themselves of violent crimes, our system's failure to ensure treatment to those with very serious conditions has led to horrific acts against innocent bystanders. Across the state from New York City to Western New York, there have been hundreds of cases of untreated mental illness with tragic consequences during the past several years. This carnage must stop. It is urgent that action is taken in Albany."
Sen. Young has pushed to strengthen and make permanent Kendra's Law, and she said she is hoping a three-way agreement quickly can be forged between the Senate, Assembly and Governor when session reconvenes in January.
"We've already lost precious time, as tragic incidents continue to occur," she said.
Sen. Young said that several improvements are needed to make Kendra's Law more effective. "Far too many cases still fall through the cracks. My legislation would protect innocent victims from violence, and improve the quality of life for people with mental illness," she said.