D.A. Bragg Announces $9 Million To Address Mental Health And Substance Abuse

December 14, 2022

New Grant Programs Seeks to Address Recidivism and Help People Successfully Navigate Complex Bureaucracy to Get Help They Need

D.A. Bragg: “The Criminal Justice System Must Not Be The Main Vehicle for Addressing Mental And Behavioral Health”

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., in partnership with the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance (ISLG), today announced a new $9 million mental health initiative to immediately reach New Yorkers with deeply entrenched needs. The initiatives aim to meet people where they are and connect them to comprehensive wraparound community support services, including housing assistance and treatment for mental illness and substance use disorders in their own communities to make them and their neighbors safer. These programs are informed by input from Manhattan community-based organizations and residents on what they have found to be the most successful strategies for creating strong, stable and safe communities. These initiatives also reflect D.A. Bragg’s belief that keeping people safe requires strengthening people’s connections to resources in their own neighborhoods that can help them to lead healthy and successful lives. They also illustrate the Office’s belief that the criminal justice system is not the most effective way to address mental and behavioral health issues or substance use.

The District Attorney’s Office is investing at two distinct points: directly in neighborhoods and at criminal court arraignment. These investments are independent from all court mandated programs.

Together, these initiatives aim to interrupt persistent recidivism and create lasting improvements in public safety by addressing the needs of those most in need in Manhattan by building trusting relationships and connecting them with long-term services such as supportive housing and treatment.

“The COVID-19 pandemic destabilized our communities in unprecedented ways and contributed to the profound mental health and substance use crisis gripping our city today,” said District Attorney Bragg. “The $9 million mental health investment we are announcing today is rooted in an understanding that true and lasting public safety requires investment in our friends, family, and neighbors who are struggling to get the support they need. By investing in preventative efforts, we are making it clear that the criminal justice system must not be the main vehicle for addressing mental and behavioral health.”

“The key to stronger, healthier communities comes from within those communities themselves, from the people who walk the streets every day,” said Michael Jacobson, founder and director of the Institute for State and Local Governance (ISLG) at the City University of New York.  “Data has shown time and time again that long-term success happens when people experiencing housing insecurity or behavioral health issues feel they can trust those trying to help them. These programs tap into that well of trust—along with evidence-based practices and the breadth of the City’s service organizations—to work hand-in-hand with people so they can thrive.”

These dual initiatives are:

  • Up to $6 million for “Neighborhood Navigators.” These professionally trained individuals will work directly with unhoused individuals who may have mental health challenges or substance use issues and connect them with services. These navigators are not part of the criminal justice system, but rather social service experts who can help clients maneuver through a complex bureaucracy that too often is difficult to navigate for people seeking the help they need. They will build lasting relationships and ultimately connect people to food, clothes, medical supplies, and other key services. The grant solicitation for this funding was released today and can be found here.
  • Up to $3 million to place “Court-Based Navigators” in all Criminal Court arraignment parts. These professionally trained individuals will serve a similar high-needs population to the Neighborhood Navigators and will additionally focus on individuals who have a history of recidivism. Any services will be separate from any programming related to an individual case. The grant solicitation for this funding is expected to be released in January, 2023.

Consistent with best practices and similar programs successfully funded by the Office, engagement with all of these programs will be voluntary.  

The Manhattan D.A.’s Office is providing these awards through its Criminal Justice Investment Initiative (“CJII”), which was created with millions of dollars seized from major banks in the course of criminal investigations and is administered by the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance.

This solicitation seeks proposals from community-based organizations to develop networks of Neighborhood Navigators who operate directly in the community and build relationships with individuals who are unhoused or who have unstable housing and spend significant time in the streets, and who face challenges with mental health or substance use. This program will be directly overseen and managed by the CUNY ISLG.

Consistent with best practices in this field and modeled off of other similar successful strategies developed within communities, Neighborhood Navigators will conduct proactive outreach to form personal connections and build trust with this difficult-to-reach population. Initial engagement will focus on meeting the basic needs of impacted individuals, such as food, clothes, and medical supplies, either through the navigator themselves or through connections to other organizations. By meeting people where they are and building trust, these navigators can eventually work across agencies and organizations to carefully reintroduce participants to longer-term solutions, such as behavioral health services or permanent housing.

In addition to working directly with these individuals, the Neighborhood Navigators will engage with local small businesses and other civic partners and help problem-solve with people living or spending time in the community.

The solicitation seeks proposals to oversee programs in the following focus neighborhoods: 

  • Washington Heights and/or Inwood
  • Chinatown and/or the Lower East Side
  • Central and/or East Harlem
  • Hell’s Kitchen and/or Midtown West and/or Chelsea

Grants may be provided to serve similar populations in other neighborhoods based on need, with funding for up to 6 total neighborhoods available.

Each grant will support six months of planning and three years of implementation.

Court-based Neighborhood Navigators will make an initial connection with individuals after their criminal court appearance, and then follow up with them in their communities to provide additional support. Initially navigators will help participants connect to basic essentials, such as MetroCards, meals, clean clothes and food. The goal of this phase is to build an initial connection, which is essential for developing a trusting relationship that can lead to longer-term services. Once trust is developed, the navigator can facilitate connections to treatment programs, supportive housing and more. These navigators can also help their clients deal with court mandates while they have cases pending, helping to ensure they make their court appearances and drive down recidivism.

In addition to these investments, earlier this year D.A. Bragg announced the creation of the Office’s first-ever Pathways to Public Safety Division, which is elevating the use of diversion and evidence-based programming. Each of the Office’s six Trial Division bureaus has a dedicated Pathways prosecutor to help proactively identify appropriate opportunities for diversion at the beginning stages of a case in the Office’s Early Case Assessment Bureau.

“New York’s growing mental health crisis demands additional support and funding from all levels of government. I am thrilled by District Attorney Bragg’s $9 million investment in mental health and substance abuse treatment for New Yorkers who need it most”, said State Senator Brad Hoylman. “This program will invest in community-based organizations which can provide individuals services completely outside of the criminal justice system. I am also glad to see resources invested for individuals to be able to access services after they are arrested, a critical point to provide intervention and support. This will help individuals receive the services they need, address recidivism, and make our streets and subways safer, and I applaud District Attorney Bragg for this investment.”

“Navigating our fragmented mental health system is a formidable challenge, but DA Bragg’s initiative to connect homeless and justice-involved New Yorkers to services shows great promise,” State Senator Liz Krueger. “Using peers — people with lived experience — to help connect individuals to essential supports and mental health treatment will make it more likely that they will accept the services they need, and help keep them and the communities they live in safer. Thank you to DA Bragg for taking leadership on this issue.”

Senator Robert Jackson said, “Mental health is essential for individual and public health. And it calls for a multi-pronged approach promoting prevention, intervention, and treatment of disease to address this. With the announcement of DA Bragg’s new initiative to address mental health and substance abuse issues, New Yorkers with needs will be reached through preventative neighborhood-based interventions that are interrelated and complementary.” The senator added, “To implement services that promote wellness and foster health, this new investment will prevent the suffering resulting from untreated mental illness and keep them and their neighbors safe.”

“I commend D.A. Alvin Bragg for once again taking a thoughtful, proactive and wise approach to pursuing justice, supporting our neighborhoods and saving lives,” said State Senator Cordell Cleare.  The two programs announced today will provide impactful support, resources and compassion to those who need it the most.  This combination of essential public health, public safety and social service resources is a most welcome change and I hope these initiatives flourish and expand.          

“True public safety is when we work to address the underlying causes of involvement with the criminal justice system. We know we can’t rely on incarceration to treat mental illness or substance use disorders. It simply does not work. I applaud D.A. Bragg for taking a science and justice-based approach to keeping our communities safe,” said Assemblymember Harvey Epstein.

“I applaud D.A. Bragg for this significant investment in our mental health and substance abuse crisis,” said Assemblymember-elect Tony Simone. “I am especially pleased to see this additional focus on Hell’s Kitchen/ Midtown West where many of our neighbors have struggled to recover since the start of the pandemic.”

“The best time to address mental illness and substance abuse is as early as possible. The second best time is as soon as someone comes in contact with the criminal justice system,” said Assemblymember-elect Alex Bores. “This announcement addresses both. These voluntary programs, paid for with existing funds, are one more tool to help prevent crimes, reduce recidivism, and keep all New Yorkers safe.”

“This initiative isn’t just about these amazing, much-needed wraparound services. It’s equally about building connection and trust with Manhattanites so that they’re receptive toward these supports,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. “This holistic approach centers relationship building, which will go a very long way toward making sure people don’t fall through the cracks and instead get the help they need.”

“New York deserves a comprehensive, person-centered healthcare system that uses evidence-based models to protect and promote the wellbeing of all communities across the city. People need somewhere where they can walk in and be treated with respect,” said Council Member Carlina Rivera.  “Healthcare staff are overburdened and burned out and have been working wonders with limited resources. We can’t continue to point people toward systems that don’t work and expect frontline workers in hospitals and jails to shoulder the systemic failures that for too long have needed to be urgently addressed. I commend District Attorney Alvin Bragg for making these critical investments that will help address gaps in the City’s healthcare system.”

“This critical mental health initiative will make our communities safer by utilizing the public safety measures that actually work,” said Council Member Shaun Abreu. “ I’m grateful that District Attorney Bragg continues to employ innovative yet tested public safety measures. This program targets the determinants of crime and provides key wrap-around services before individuals become justice-involved and after low-level court arraignment. By making sure our neighbors have housing assistance, substance abuse treatment, and mental illness support, we’re able to prevent incarceration and make our communities safer.

“In the face of the current mental health and substance use crisis, I commend D.A. Bragg for investing in a proactive, community-based approach that builds on the success of the Community First program in Times Square,” said Tom Harris, President of the Times Square Alliance. “When we employed peer navigators, we saw an immediate positive impact for the struggling individuals they were connecting with, and for all those living, working, and visiting in Times Square. The success of Community First comes from the great partnerships we have forged with Midtown Community Court, Breaking Ground, and Fountain House and I am thrilled to see these lessons applied on a much broader scale across Manhattan.”

“We commend District Attorney Bragg for funding community support services that are voluntary and preventative,” said Jennifer J Parish, Director of Criminal Justice Advocacy, Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project. “These investments demonstrate an understanding that community-based organizations are best-suited to conduct outreach and build relationships with individuals who are unhoused and have mental health or substance use challenges. Far too many people with mental health treatment needs are incarcerated in New York City jails. Funding interventions that prevent people from becoming involved in the criminal legal system or provide them with support upon arrest so that they avoid incarceration is essential.”