New York Assisted Outpatient Treatment Law ruled Constitutional: In the Matter of K.L.


Kendra’s Law (New York Mental Hygiene Law § 9.60) helps New Yorkers with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder who are too ill to recognize their need for, or incapable of maintaining, treatment. The program allows a court to order someone who meets very specific criteria into community-based mental health treatment. This court-ordered treatment is called assisted outpatient treatment.

The law is named in memory of Kendra Webdale. In January 1999, the 32-year-old Buffalo native was killed after being pushed into the path of a New York City subway train by Andrew Goldstein, a man with severe mental illness who had a history of noncompliance with treatment. Goldstein is now in prison (25 years to life).


Kendra’s Law passed the legislature by an overwhelming majority (Senate 49-2, Assembly 142-4) and was signed into law by New York Gov. George Pataki on August 9, 1999. When it took effect on Nov. 8, 1999, Kendra’s Law made New York the 41st state to have assisted outpatient treatment.

Kendra's Law was renewed for another five years June 30, 2005 by an even greater majority (Senate 60-0, Assembly 144-1). Opponents and supporters alike agreed on extension – and also on the fact that the law has been sporadically applied throughout the state. The counties that are using the law are seeing striking results – so almost half of the improvements to the law wisely focus on ensuring its broader application so that others can also reap its benefits. The changes include creating new classes of authorized petitioners, slightly expanding the program’s eligibility criteria, explicitly permitting the enforcement of an AOT order outside the issuing county, and creating a judicial education program that will teach judges and their staffs to more effectively administer the law.


Since its passage, data from the New York State Office of Mental Health indicate Kendra's Law is a stunning success. (See the box to the right and the links below.)

There were dire predictions that 10,000 people a year would be swept into Kendra's law, but less than 1,000 individuals are enrolled each year. Details of people served indicate that less than 1/2 of 1 percent of New Yorkers with severe mental illnesses have been served under court order.

Not only did it help the individuals in the program, but the report notes "there was broad recognition that implementation of the processes to provide AOT to high risk/high need recipients has resulted in beneficial structural changes to local mental health delivery systems. ... AOT has increased accountability at all levels regarding delivery of services to individuals who have high needs and who are at high risk to themselves or others." 


Kendra's Law has also withstood numerous court challenges, including two in which its core provisions were explicitly found to be constitutional.

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