José A. Alvarado Jr.

Photographer
 
Location: New York City, New York
Nationality: Puerto Rican American
Biography: José A. Alvarado Jr. is a Puerto Rican photographer dedicated to documenting class inequality, civic engagement, and contemporary issues in Puerto Rico and New York City. He works primarily in long-form storytelling, using visual imagery... MORE
Media
for The New York Times: Kendra’s Law Was Meant to Prevent Violence. It Failed Hundreds of Times.
josé a. alvarado jr.
Dec 22, 2023
Location: New York, New York
Summary
New York’s premier monitoring program for people with mental illness has broken down repeatedly, including in five cases involving subway shovings.
After John Skeene served prison time for beating his mother to death with a chair leg, after he attacked a man with a radiator cover and threatened to murder his therapist, New York State placed him in its gold-standard program for treating mentally ill people at risk of committing violence.

The program, which grew out of legislation known as Kendra’s Law and has been held up as a national model, was supposed to ensure that Mr. Skeene complied with a court-ordered treatment plan despite being homeless and living with schizoaffective disorder.

But by late 2018, there were signs that he was once again becoming unstable. He terrorized workers in his Queens transitional housing program, records show, banging on desks and kicking doors until they called 911. After subsequent outbursts, and while he was off his medications, the workers tried to send him for a hospital psychiatric evaluation, but he refused.

Under Kendra’s Law, his treatment team could have forced him to go anyway, but it apparently did not take that step, records show. Soon after, Mr. Skeene cornered a mental health worker in her office and punched her 30 times in the face, fracturing her eye socket and damaging her brain. She spent the next six months in the hospital, and, when she emerged, had to relearn how to walk. Mr. Skeene, then 59, went to prison.

For years, New York has used Kendra’s Law to force the seriously mentally ill people it has judged to be most at risk of committing acts of violence to receive psychiatric treatment, with the goal of protecting the patient and the public alike. Enacted in 1999, the law was designed to ensure that dangerous breakdowns never occurred again.

But a New York Times investigation has found that people under Kendra’s Law orders have been accused of committing more than 380 subway shovings, beatings, stabbings and other violent acts in the past five years alone.

More than a third of them took place in New York City.

Photographed for The New York Times, with words by Amy Julia Harris and Jan Ransom
Kendra’s Law Was Meant to Prevent Violence. It Failed Hundreds of Times.
New York’s premier monitoring program for people with mental illness has broken down repeatedly, including in five cases involving subway shovings.
Nytimes.com
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for The New York Times: Kendra’s Law Was Meant to Prevent Violence. It Failed Hundreds of Times. by José A. Alvarado Jr.
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