Weekly Round-Up: July 21st, 2014

Immigration/NYC Municipal Identification Card

  • If you can prove your identity and residency then you will be eligible for a New York City Identity Card beginning in January 2015. Mayor Bill De Blasio recently signed a bill that will allow those who do not have or cannot obtain a government ID to have some form of identification that will allow them to: cash a check, open a bank account, or obtain a library card, among other things. Some advocates and undocumented immigrants are afraid that this will serve as an obvious sign of undocumented status. However, the Mayor plans to attach other benefits to the card such as discounts for different attractions in the city, in the hopes that the ID will be attractive to a vast array of residents. The documents used to obtain the ID card must be destroyed after 2 years. In a press conference, the Mayor indicated that the New York City Municipal ID Card is likely to be an attractive option for undocumented immigrants. He went on to state that New York is a “beacon of hope and inclusion,” and furthermore, this is an example of immigration reform “since we so often cannot depend on our federal government.” To learn more about the New York City Identity Card, click here.

Mental Health in Prisons

  • The New York Times reported this week that an increasing number of inmates at Rikers Island are mentally unstable and have suffered abuse at the hands of the correctional staff. Some jail staff have said that Rikers is not a facility that is equipped to deal with inmates who have mental illness. In the past, inmates with serious mental illness could be placed in solitary confinement, but this is not always the best answer. It has been shown that this can have an even more deleterious effect on inmates and worsen their symptoms. Additionally, medical staff cannot force inmates to take their medication.
  • Furthermore, according to the New York Times, correction officers are not well-trained to work with inmates who suffer from depression, bipolar, or other mental illnesses. In some instances, this has led to officers dealing with inmates by engaging in physical altercations, which have led to the inmates being seriously injured. An internal study by the City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene that was obtained by the New York Times found that 129 inmates had been seriously injured in 11 months in 2013, and 77% of these inmates had a mental health diagnosis. It was reported that some prison staff looked on while inmates were beaten by other staff members. One inmate died this year after his cell was too hot. Another inmate was brutally beaten after he tried to commit suicide.
  • Joseph Ponte, the City Department of Correction Commissioner, admits that the system is broken and outdated. Mr. Ponte hopes to have the policies about when a corrections officer can use force revised by this fall. The Department of Correction has also made other changes concerning solitary confinement practices and is providing enhanced mental health training for correction officers. Mayor De Blasio also set aside 32 million dollars in the new budget for mental health and additional prison staff. To read the Times report, please click here. (New York Times)

Science/Public Health: Breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, afflicting more than thirty five million people worldwide. This number is expected to triple by the year 2050. The causes of this disease are unknown, but research and awareness have been gaining strength in the past few years. Some family law attorneys may assist individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease and their families with guardianship, health care proxies, or other matters as needed.
  • This past week in Copenhagen, Denmark, the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference took place. At the conference, the investigators share the latest test results and discuss any possible breakthroughs in treatment and/or prevention. A new vision screening test was presented that can be performed to detect signs of Alzheimer’s disease ten to fifteen years before symptoms begin to manifest. The idea behind this new test is that the eye is considered a “mirror for brain health.” This means that by detecting amyloid plaque that may be associated with Alzheimer’s disease in the back of the eye, health professionals may be able to predict and prevent the disease. The final stages of the research should be wrapping up in the fall, but the test may be commercially available by the end of 2015. For more information on this test click here.

Sexual Assault/Law Enforcement:  Rape Kit Backlog Processing

  • The evidence collected from sexual assaults, known as rape kits, often goes untested and can sit in crime labs or evidence rooms for years. According to a recent editorial by the New York Times, the current number of untested rape kits in the nation exceeds 100,000. The kits often contain valuable information that can be tested and added to the DNA profiles of state and national databases to lead to arrests in many cold cases.
  • President Obama, with the support of the House and the Senate, proposed a federal grant program to process untested rape kits. On June 5, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the allocation of $41 million to help decrease the backlog in testing and to work to stop this from happening again.  However, the funding has not yet been approved by the full Senate.
  • A number of jurisdictions, including Memphis, Detroit, and Salt Lake City, have pursued initiatives for testing the rape kits and decreasing the heavy backlog. The state of Utah has begun the process of hiring private labs to process the backlogged rape kits. A new Michigan law, aimed at avoiding future backlogs, creates new guidelines and procedures for hospitals and law enforcement when initially handling the rape kits.