Enhanced Defense MICA Project

 The Enhanced Defense-MICA Project provides services to people with serious mental health and substance abuse issues involved in the criminal justice system. The Project's attorneys and social workers divert clients from jail/prison into community treatment and support individuals in changing their lives and reducing recidivism.

Since 2002, the Society’s Enhanced Defense-MICA Project has provided legal and community support services to some of the most vulnerable defendants in New York City’s criminal justice system. These individuals, struggling to live with co-occurring serious mental illness and addiction problems, are often underserved and victimized while incarcerated in our jails and prisons. Studies show that those with mental illness are more likely to be arrested, detained longer in jail and sentenced more severely than those with similar charges without a mental illness. Correctional facilities often fail to properly treat the mentally ill and do even less to prepare for their re-entry into the community. Our failure to adequately address this issue is ruining lives and fueling the rate of incarceration of this population.

The MICA Project's holistic model partners mental health attorneys with licensed clinical social workers and a Rikers Island community liaison to provide expert legal representation and social services. Our main focus is to secure alternatives to incarceration for clients who can be legally diverted from jail/prison into community based treatment. Once a client is receiving community treatment, our unique defense-based bridge case management approach enables us to provide 18-24 months of community social services and monitoring which helps prevent clients from “falling through the cracks.” In addition to providing direct client services, the Project is committed to addressing the systemic issues facing the MICA population; we do this through extensive consultative services, advocacy efforts and training.

Each life we touch is significant. Many of our clients have re-claimed their lives, emerging from the darkness of untreated mental illness and addiction. Anna had 50 plus arrests over a 20-year period. Psych-education on her mental illness and subsequent treatment was the springboard for her securing her first apartment, holding a part-time employment and, her most prized achievement, “paying taxes for the first time.” Carl avoided a five-year prison sentence, which would have cost upwards of $350,000, through successful completion of three years of court mandated treatment. He is studying and dreams of becoming a licensed electrician. Tina, a long-term trauma survivor, left a life of crime, drug use and prostitution when she entered residential treatment. After two years and over ten arrests, Tina successfully competed treatment and is living in supportive housing. She remains drug free and without any criminal justice contact for over a year.

The Project’s hard work and commitment have demonstrated a measurable way to avoid wasting resources on jails and prisons, by investing in people. The Project remains committed to empowering individuals and families, making communities safer and cutting the ballooning costs incurred by recidivism and incarceration.