Chairman Crowley Announces the Kalief Browder Re-Entry Success Act
Crowley Legislation Seeks to Improve Mental Health and Community Services for the Formerly Incarcerated
(Queens, N.Y.) – Today, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens, the Bronx), Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, held a press conference on the steps of City Hall to announce the introduction of his Kalief Browder Re-Entry Success Act, federal legislation that seeks to improve mental health services for those re-entering society after time in jail or prison. The bill is named after the 16 year-old Bronx resident who was incarcerated for three years, often in solitary confinement, without any formal charges brought against him. When Kalief was finally released, he did all he could to rebound and regain the life he once had. However, struggling with the trauma he endured while in jail, Kalief would eventually take his own life in 2015.
“Tragically, Kalief’s story is not uncommon,” said Rep. Crowley, whose district includes Rikers Island. “The formerly incarcerated often struggle to understand and deal with their mental health challenges alongside the myriad of difficulties they face integrating back into society. And those who were treated for existing mental health issues while in prison often face discontinuity of treatment and services once they are no longer in the system. We have a moral obligation to do what we can to ensure successful community re-entry and that means providing the resources necessary for people with mental health challenges to get help. And with this new bill, I hope we can do just that – as well as help prevent future tragedies.”
Crowley’s legislation would instruct the Attorney General and the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health to set up a pilot program that seeks to assess the mental health of prisoners before they leave prison and provide continuity of mental health and other community services after release.
Under the legislation, both the U.S. Bureau of Prisons as well as state and local departments of corrections will submit proposals in conjunction with organizations that provide mental health and other social services outlining the program they intend to set up and the services they will provide to exiting offenders. The Attorney General, in determining grant recipients, will give priority to those facilities with a high percentage of prisoners in restrictive housing, as well as a high percentage of recidivism and re-incarceration among individuals recently released from the facility or facilities under their jurisdiction.
“Kalief let the world know of the injustices of the Department of Corrections by not being silent,” said Akeem Browder, Kalief’s brother. “The Browder Family extends our voices through every means possible to get you to understand that we need to change the culture of this topic and make it ok to speak about mental health and suicide.”
“If mental health services had been provided prior to and directly upon Kalief Browder’s release from Rikers Island perhaps it could have changed his fate,” said Paul Prestia, the Browder family’s attorney. “This legislation will ensure that those who've had their mental health compromised in prison are at least afforded some semblance of care to facilitate their return to society.”
“The Fortune Society strongly supports the Kalief Browder Re-entry Success Act,” said JoAnne Page, The Fortune Society President and CEO. “Over the fifty years since our founding, we have served literally hundreds of thousands of individuals trying to rebuild their lives after release from incarceration. We recognize the urgent need for provision of mental health services for those returning home, both for their sakes and for their families and communities. We are glad to see the bill named after Kalief Browder in the hope that his tragic death will result in services to prevent future similar tragedies.”
“Restrictive housing continues to be over-utilized as a strategy for both punishment and protection of America's jail and prison inmates,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., Ph.D., American Psychological Association CEO. “Representative Crowley's legislation seeks to expand the knowledge base around what works to address symptoms of mental illness experienced by those reentering their communities from prison or jail--particularly those who have endured time in restrictive housing.”
“Investing in mental healthcare for the formerly incarcerated makes the integration back into society safer for everyone involved, reduces recidivism, enhances public safety and helps our organization provide quality and compassionate care for our constituents,” said Julio Medina, Exodus Transitional Community Executive Director.
According to an analysis of a Bureau of Justice Statistics report by Health Affairs, 50 percent of male and 75 percent of female inmates in state prisons, and 75 percent of female and 63 percent of male inmates in jails, will experience a mental health problem requiring mental health services in any given year.
Crowley’s legislation has broad support from a range of organizations including: The Fortune Society, American Psychological Association, American Jail Association, Justice Policy Institute, Association of State Correctional Administrators, Exodus Transitional Community, National Disability Rights Network, and the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund.
Congressman Crowley is the ten-term representative from the 14th Congressional District of New York, which includes sections of Queens and the Bronx. He serves as Chairman of the Democratic Caucus and is a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee in the House of Representatives.