Right of Psychiatrically Disabled State Prison Inmates to Adequate Pre-Release Planning and Accommodations

Messiah S. v. Alexander, 07 Civ. 1327 (MGC) (S.D.N.Y.)

Nature of Claims: This class action for declaratory and injunctive relief, filed on February 22, 2007, is brought on behalf of indigent New York City residents with psychiatric disabilities who are under the supervision of the New York State Division of Parole (DOP), or who are soon to be released to New York City from a New York State prison under DOP supervision. The plaintiffs and members of the proposed plaintiff class have psychiatric disabilities that interfere with major life activities such as thinking, concentrating, interacting with others, caring for oneself, working, and remembering and processing information. They are qualified to participate in parole, but require appropriate accommodations for their disabilities in the form of pre-release planning and appropriate transitional services in order to be successful in the parole program. Because they lack financial resources, class members are also qualified for one or more public benefits programs, but require accommodations in the form of assistance with pre-release applications and post-release services in order to obtain and maintain access to those programs.

The defendants include New York State and City agencies responsible for performing pre-release planning, administering the parole program, and/or administering public benefits programs, including the New York State Division of Parole, State Office of Mental Health, State Department of Health, and State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance; and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Human Resources Administration. Claims are asserted under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the federal Medicaid and Food Stamp Acts, the Due Process Clause of the Constitution, and, as against New York City agencies, under state laws and regulations governing public benefits programs.

Current Status: Plaintiffs filed a motion for class certification on February 23, 2007. By stipulation dated April 19, 2007, the plaintiffs withdrew their class certification motion on consent to facilitate settlement discussions. Those discussions are continuing.

No. Persons Affected: While these figures do not represent a perfect proxy for the class, thousands of inmates who are assigned to the mental health caseload, or who are receiving psychotropic medication, counseling, or both, are released from New York State prison each year into the parole program in New York City. Thousands of others who are currently on parole in New York City were in that status before their release from State prison.

Reported Decisions: None.