Who Are We?
The Mental Health Project of the Urban Justice Center is a team of attorneys, social workers and advocates dedicated to enforcing the rights of low-income New Yorkers with mental illness. We represent individual clients, bring class action lawsuits and engage in community education with the belief that low-income people with mental illness are entitled to live stable and full lives, free from discrimination.
What Do We Do?
- Homelessness Prevention/Income Maintenance: Represent clients in housing matters and advocate for social policies that combat homelessness. Ensure that clients have access to benefits, including food stamps, Social Security and public assistance.
- Discharge Planning: Enforce state and federal laws requiring hospitals, jails and prisons to provide people with mental illness with crucial social services prior to discharge.
- Criminal Justice: Fight against the criminalization of mental illness and for the humane treatment of people in prison with mental illness.
- Disability Rights: Advocate for the rights of people with mental illness to live in the least restrictive setting appropriate, and to be active participants in decisions regarding their lives.
- Advocacy for Veterans: Assist veterans with PTSD and other mental health problems by providing legal services to access housing, health care and income.
Why Is Our Work Necessary?
Low-income people with severe and persistent mental illness die, on average, 25 years earlier than other Americans. Many cycle between hospitals, jails and the streets. To beat the odds, our clients need assistance obtaining the basic necessities of life: food, housing, medical care and clothing. To ensure stability and dignity, they need still more: community integration and government programs that truly provide a social safety net.
- Won nearly $1 billion in retroactive benefits pursuant to Clark v. Astrue, a class action lawsuit challenging the Social Security Administration's policy of suspending the benefits of tens of thousands of retired and disabled people based on often-erroneous warrants;
- Won an enforcement action on behalf of thousands of incarcerated people with mental illness to ensure that they receive court-mandated discharge planning services pursuant to Brad H. v. City of New York;
- Brought suit against the Social Security Administration for failure to provide full and fair hearings to disabled claimants whose cases are assigned to biased judges in Queens, New York.
News and Events
MHP Obtains Unprecedented Relief for Thousands of Disabled New Yorkers in Settlement with Social Security Administration
On January 11, 2013, MHP and pro bono co-counsel Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP reached a major settlement in a lawsuit filed against the Social Security Administration (SSA) for systematic, generalized bias against disabled claimants by five administrative law judges (“ALJs”) in SSA’s Queens Office of Disability Adjudication & Review (“QODAR”). Under the settlement, approximately 4,000 individual denied disability benefits will be entitled to receive new hearings. The settlement also provides prospective relief to those denied in the future. For the 30-month period after the court approves the settlement, any claimant denied benefits by these five ALJs will automatically have their claim reviewed by the special review unit, and, if granted a new hearing, will have a right to a new hearing before other ALJs. The settlement is the largest of its kind and provides unprecedented relief. Click here to read the press release. Click here to read the proposed settlement agreement and other background documents.
The Fight Continues in Brad H.
On June 28, 2011, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that New York City must continue to comply with a landmark 2003 settlement in which the City agreed to provide services to incarcerated people with mental illness upon their release, including continued mental health care, medications and prescriptions, substance abuse treatment, case management, public benefits, housing and transportation. The decision, which reinstates a 2009 Supreme Court decision that had been overturned at the Appellate Division, will allow litigation to proceed on whether the 2003 settlement can be extended an additional two years.
Unfortunately the problems with discharge planning which we described in our 2009 preliminary injunction motion have not been ameliorated during the two years in which the appeal was pending. With the appeal resolved, we look forward to holding the City accountable for providing these much-needed services.
For more than a decade, the Mental Health Project, with the support of our co-counsel Debevoise & Plimpton and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, has fought for the rights of incarcerated people with mental illness to receive the supports needed to transition from treatment in jail to the community. For more information on the Brad H. litigation, click here.
Most Recent Press
"Judge gives initial OK to bias settlement over disability claims,"
May 3, 2013
"Advocates speak out on brutality in jails,"
March 8, 2013
"Sick and in solitary,"
The New York World,
February 6, 2013