Council Member Rafael Espinal recently proposed legislation to require the Department of Corrections to create a program that would provide mental health services at NYC jails for visiting minors.
The goal of the program would be to provide referrals to mental health services as well as onsite mental health services if possible on a voluntary basis.
“Every day children are separated from their parents and experience trauma when they are forced to interact with the criminal justice system right here in New York City,” said Espinal via a press release. “This bill would force the Department of Corrections to create a program to deal with this trauma at the point of contact: in jail facilities when children visit their incarcerated loved ones.”
Espinal also stated that it was time to “pay attention to the mental, emotional and physical well-being of young people who are put into these straining situations and bring the necessary services right to where they are.”
The Council Member equated the trauma to the national scandal regarding the state sanctioned separation of immigrant children from their parents.
“The forced separation of parents and children at detention centers along the US border horrified our country,” he said. “But it also shed light on the fact that this is not just a border problem, nor is it only a federal circumstance.”
Other local officials agreed that it would be important to provide these services to vulnerable residents.
“Recently, city-wide support for acknowledging and addressing our mental health needs has given Bushwick residents more opportunities to better manage their health despite the prevailing stigmas,” said Bushwick District Manager Celestina Leon.
Christine Ella, a teacher who has had students with incarcerated loved ones, wrote online that the legislation hit close to home.
“This is a great idea” Ella said in a Facebook comment. “One of my middle school students was struggling with the incarceration of her father and everything that went along with trying to see him.”
Council Member Espinal has a track record of progressive initiatives. His previous work in mental health legislation garnered him a “Spirit of Advocacy” award from The Institute for Community Living. Espinal worked to grant the ICL $750,000 in Capital Funding to open a hub in East New York in 2016.
Espinal’s other initiatives include banning plastic straws in businesses to protect the environment and working to prohibit city agencies from using local resources to comply with deportations. He also successfully worked to overturn the cabaret laws that prevented dancing in bars and established a director position that oversees nightlife in New York City.
Cover photo courtesy of Cole Patrick