N.J. AG Platkin discusses mental health initiatives at reentry conference in Jersey City


The New Jersey Reentry Corporation’s annual conference at Saint Peter’s University featured a number of prominent speakers, such as Attorney General Matt Platkin, discussing metal health initiatives.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

“Mental illness is just that. An illness that should be treated appropriately with clinically driven treatment,” NJRC Chair Jim McGreevey, a former governor and Jersey City mayoral candidate, exclaimed before introducing Platkin.

McGreevey, who has organized the annual event for years, introduced Platkin and noted mental health issues should be addressed before police are called in an ideal situation.

“This state believes no person is defined by the worst moment in their life. We all make mistakes. If you’re willing to stand up and find other opportunities, we’ll meet you halfway,” he began.

“Conduct and people’s behavior is a function of their place in society all too often. If we view people in the prism of their one mistake, I think we’ll miss all the other factors that contributed to that moment.”

Platkin said New Jersey is leading the country in addressing mental health issues.

“Half of the people that sit in jails in this country suffer from mental health challenges. A significant number of people come into contact with law enforcement due to a manifestation of their mental Illness.”

Additionally, he contended that the Garden State has the most transparent use of force rules and regulations in our country.

“Uses of force are disproportionately likely to occur in cases involving mental health or emotional distress,” he noted.

McGreevey said the AG’s Office started a pilot program in South Jersey to incorporate mental health awareness into 911 calls, leading to the launch of the Arrive Together program.

In the program, plainclothes officers without uniforms now arrive on calls with mental health professionals when it is warranted.

“We are now the first state in the country to have an alternative response program operational in all 21 counties of the State of New Jersey,” Platkin said to applause.

“We’ve eliminated the bad outcomes that … are so fundamentally destructive … Law enforcement has stood up and been part of that change,” he declared.

He added that the specifics of the program vary county by county to respond to local needs, as well as acknowledging that mental health professionals and police had often not been on the same page in the past.

“We’re seeing a decline in the use of force in cases with mental health issues,” Platkin asserted.

Platkin said they have prioritized lessening arrests and honing in on police brutality by creating new offices, also crediting the New Jersey State Police for their assistance on those matters.

“We can evolve and do things in a more enlightened way … that gives them the support they need without punishment,” he said.

“What is the function of the police officer distinct and separate from the function of the mental health provider?” McGreevey asked Platkin after he concluded his remarks.

Platkin replied that their basic model is the co-responder model, where a plain-clothed officer leaves an unmarked car and helps de-escalate a tense situation.

“It’s a much more clinical response,” he added.

Platkin noted in one incident, a woman was having mental health issues, and her brother called the police, which was problematic since she expressed distrust for law enforcement.

He recounted the officer saying, “I’m going to take a step back. He essentially left the field of view.”

She then voluntarily accepted treatment on the spot before the situation got out of hand.

“We’re working in tandem. We should give law enforcement a lot of credit to say they want to be part of this. It’s really a partnership,” Platkin argued.

He said they try to be very community-oriented regarding it. Platkin added the budget of the program is about $10 million of the State’s $56 billion budget.

“I think Arrive is saving money,” he added, noting that the program prevents use-of-force complaints and/or lawsuits.

“NJ Reentry strongly supports Arrive Together. It should be in every community,” McGreevey stated, adding that mental health patients are a large percentage of inmates.

The conference, which ran from approximately 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., featured several panels on mental health and the limited support available to address such serious issues.

On the panel following Platkin, it was noted that mental health treatment has declined severely, while the state’s population has nearly doubled since the 1960s.

Jails are one of the few places that serve as a comprehensive center for social services and mental treatment.

It was established by Phila there are not enough beds in mental health hospitals versus jails.

“We need more bed space available,” Phil Alagia, chief of staff toEssex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, said.

An in memoriam was scheduled to be held at the end of the conference for the late Andrew Washington with members of his family, dedicating the conference to him.

Washington, who had a history of mental illness, was fatally shot by a Jersey City police officer in August after he charged at him with a knife.

Jersey City officials, including Mayor Steven Fulop, defended the actions of the police, noting that it was Jersey City Medical Center personnel who contacted the PD and that a taser was also used before Washington was shot.

As Platkin had noted, the State of New Jersey has taken action to address situations like this one, with Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signing the Seabrooks-Washington Community-Led Crisis Response Act in January.

Other speakers throughout the day included Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association (POBA) President Joe Cossolini, Hudson County Department of Housing and Community Reintegration Director Frank Mazza, and New York Giants tight end Darren Waller.

Murphy provided short pre-recorded remarks, while Archdiocese of Newark Cardinal Joseph Tobin provided the invocation.

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