Mental health professionals who provide services in New York prisons would be eligible for thousands of dollars in student loan forgiveness under legislation proposed this week by a state lawmaker.
The bill, backed by Assemblyman Jake Blumencranz, would provide annual grant awards of up to $2,000 in student loan forgiveness that would be awarded to people who provide mental health services to incarcerated people.
Blumencarz, a Republican, hopes the measure can garner bipartisan support in Albany.
"This important legislation will not only help incarcerated individuals get high quality mental health services, it will also help attract and retain high quality mental health professionals in our correctional facilities," he said. "Mental health care in correctional facilities may be an individual's only opportunity treatment and providing appropriate care reduces risk and recidivism and improves safety."
Blumencarz pointed to a national study that found 70% of the people in American jails and prisons have at least one diagnosed mental illness or substance abuse disorder or both. Up to a third of people in prisons and jails have a serious mental illness.
New York's prison population has declined significantly in the last several decades as the state has closed multiple facilities in recent years.
At the same time, corrections union officials have raised alarm over the violence directed at their members while working in prison.