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
Mental Health Advocacy Course
The Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project announces the Mental Health Advocacy Course. The Advocacy Course provides an overview of systems advocacy and provides students with the skills to identify appropriate strategies and tactics to advocate around issues that impact people with mental illness. Students will have an opportunity to strengthen skills through discussions and activities about the following topics:
- Preparing for Public Hearings & Lobby Days
- Building Communication & Leadership Skills
- Understanding Trauma & Burnout
- Researching an Issue
- Community Organizing
- And more!
The course will be held on Tuesdays, from 10:00 AM – 12:30 PM, and will run from 12/10/13 to 3/11/14. This course is for individuals who have a history of mental illness. Please confirm that you are able to commit to every session. For questions and an application, please call Megan Crowe-Rothstein at 646-602-5665. Space is limited and fills up quickly!
Court Approves Groundbreaking Settlement in Lawsuit Filed by MHP Against Social Security
On October 18, 2013, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Carol B. Amon of the Eastern District of New York granted final approval of a major settlement reached in a lawsuit filed by MHP and pro bono co-counsel Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP 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”). The settlement is the largest of its kind and provides unprecedented relief. 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.
Click here to read the court’s order granting final approval.
For more information on the lawsuit, click here.
MHP Director of Criminal Justice Advocacy, Jennifer Parish in New York Times
"City Jails Use Solitary Confinement Excessively," NY Times, August 22, 2013
UJC Mental Health Project Awarded Grant to Fight Solitary Confinement
The Urban Justice Center’s Mental Health Project was awarded a $100,000 grant from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock (UUCSR) in Manhasset, NY to fund its work to build a statewide coalition aimed at dramatically reducing the use of solitary confinement in jails and prisons. Through its Large Grants Program, UUCSR funds important social justice work and this year the program identified solitary confinement as one of its priorities within the Criminal Justice and Prison Reform area.
The Mental Health Project is a member of the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC), which advocates for sweeping reform of New York’s use of solitary confinement and other forms of extreme isolation in state prisons and jails. The UUCSR Large Grants award will allow the Mental Health Project to devote significant time to moving forward the goals of CAIC.
For more than a decade, the Mental Health Project has been one of the leaders in organizing to stop the horrendous practice of solitary confinement, starting with its involvement in the “Boot the SHU” Campaign, which focused on people with mental illness who were held in New York State prison special housing units (“SHU”). The Mental Health Project was among the founding members of Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement (MHASC) which continues to organize around the needs of people with mental illness in state prison.
In 2011, the Mental Health Project helped form the New York City Jails Action Coalition to promote human rights, dignity, and safety for people in New York City jails. The group addresses a range of problems in NYC jails including solitary confinement, brutality, and racist and discriminatory policies leading to mass incarceration.
The Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project is honored and grateful to receive this significant support for its organizing and advocacy work.
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
"City Jails Use Solitary Confinement Excessively,"
August 22, 2013
"New York Promised Help for Mentally Ill Inmates – But Still Sticks Many in Solitary,"
August 15, 2013
MHASC alerted the Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, which had oversight responsibility for prison mental health care, about Amir Hall’s death at Great Meadow in June 2010 and requested that the Commission investigate it. This article is about Mr. Hall’s suicide and the decline in the number of people in state prison determined to have a “serious mental illness” since the SHU Exclusion Law was enacted.