In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school, New York has validated the importance of mental illness treatment in reducing violence by building improvements to Kendra’s Law into the gun violence prevention legislation passed this week. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law January 15th, 2013.

“New York has taken the lead in recognizing the role of a strong assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) law in effort to address rampage killings and other govcuomopreventable tragedies. Our hope is that other states - including Connecticut, which has no provision for AOT - will soon follow their lead,” said Doris A. Fuller, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center.

The following changes will increase the effectiveness of assisted outpatient treatment in New York, improve mental health treatment outcomes and enhance public safety:

  • Maximum length of an initial AOT order is extended from six months to one year.
  • If a person under AOT moves to a new county, officials in the new country will be notified and enforcement responsibility of AOT will transfer to mental health officials in the new county of residence.
  • Before releasing a mentally ill inmate into the community, a state forensic correctional facility is required to first assess whether the inmate meets AOT criteria. If the inmate meets AOT criteria, the director of the correctional facility must either petition the court for AOT or refer the case to the mental health authorities in the county of the inmate’s expected residence.
  • Prior to the expiration of an AOT order, county mental health officials are required to evaluate the need for AOT renewal.
  • County mental health officials are authorized to petition for renewal of AOT orders, even if the person cannot be located.
  • The “sunset” date of the law (the expiration date, if not re-authorized) is deferred from 2015 to 2017.

The passage occured barely a week after the 14th anniversary of the death of Kendra Webdale, who was pushed into the path of an oncoming train by a man with severe mental illness and a long history of treatment non-adherence. In a recent op-ed, her parents called for improvements to Kendra’s Law “to prevent further death and grief” (“Our daughter did not die in vain,” NY Daily News, Jan. 3). 

At the Treatment Advocacy Center, we have been calling for improvements to Kendra’s Law since 2010.

These calls have not gone unanswered.


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