March 24, 2022 By Allie Griffin
State Sen. Jessica Ramos is calling on the city council to invest in mental health services for alleged lawbreakers rather than pumping money into the prison system.
Ramos joined a rally on the steps of City Hall Wednesday morning to demand the council add funding to mental health services and decrease funding for the Department of Corrections in the upcoming city budget.
The rally-goers were responding to a preliminary budget Mayor Eric Adams released last month, in which he proposed increasing the DOC budget by roughly $53 million, to $1.23 billion, while cutting funding to the health department by over $194 million, to $2.07 billion. The mayor’s budget also calls for slashing funding to the city’s public hospital system by nearly $390 million, to $717 million.
Following the rally, Ramos testified at the council’s preliminary budget hearing the same morning to advocate for her position.
“We are all concerned with public safety, let’s take the responsibility of addressing those fears seriously by spending taxpayer dollars on programs that meaningfully intervene into the post-pandemic mental health crisis,” Ramos said in her testimony.
The lawmaker, whose district will soon include Rikers Island due to recent redistricting, also demanded its closure.
“As the senator who will soon represent Rikers, I’ll be clear: it must close,” she said on Twitter.
Ramos said the city must consider alternative options – similar to existing drug diversion programs — instead of jailing pre-trial defendants on Rikers Island in “inhumane conditions”.
She suggested the use of mental health diversion programs as one alternative and has introduced a bill in the state legislature called “The Treatment Not Jail Act” to expand the use of such programs. The bill expands the number and type of charges eligible for treatment within mental health diversion programs as a part of sentencing.
To support the bill’s goal, the city needs to allocate funding for more treatment facilities in its budget.
“To implement diversion programs we need our city to invest in more mental health beds and
more treatment facilities,” Ramos said.
Her testimony echoed the message of the Freedom Agenda, the group that organized the rally outside City Hall. According to the group, the city spends more than $556,000 a year per inmate on jail operations.
“We call on our allies and elected offices for a just budget,” Freedom Agenda leader Peggy Herrera said at the rally. “Invest into our communities instead of an inflated DOC budget.”
Ramos is not the only Queens official to call for change in the mayor’s preliminary budget.
Three Queens council members, Tiffany Cabán, Shekar Krishnan and Nantasha Williams, joined a group criticizing Mayor Eric Adams’ proposed cuts to services like education, housing and healthcare, while boosting funds for the prison system.
“Mayor Adams has proposed a budget that would defund many of our most vital public safety and public health agencies and institutions,” Cabán said at a Manhattan rally last week.
They are pushing for a city budget that redistributes funding from the DOC and NYPD to agencies that oversee public health, education, sanitation and parks — which are facing budget cuts in the mayor’s proposal.