Child stabbing puts focus on mental health care after prison

Daniel St. Hubert in a Brooklyn, N.Y. court on Friday, June 6, 2014

CBS New York

NEW YORK - The man accused of stabbing two children in a Brooklyn elevator over the weekend had a history of involuntary psychiatric commitment, but reports indicate that Daniel St. Hubert may not have connected with mental health services after being released from prison on May 23.

St. Hubert, 27, is charged with murder, attempted murder, and assault for his alleged attack on 6-year-old Prince Joshua Avitto, who was killed, and 7-year-old Mikayla Capers, on the evening of June 1. He is also suspected of stabbing a man in a Manhattan subway station, and police are investigating whether he was involved in the stabbing death of 18-year-old Tanaya Copeland on May 30.

All these crimes took place less than two weeks after St. Hubert, who is being held without bail, was released from prison after serving five years on an attempted murder charge for strangling his mother with an electrical cord.

"The first couple weeks after someone gets out are just critical," says Amy Blake Wilson, an assistant professor at Case Western University who has studied how people with mental illness access care upon release from jail.

Brian Stettin, policy director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, a non-profit devoted to improving the nation's mental health care system, agrees: "You can't just drop someone with severe mental illness into the community and expect they're going to find their way to treatment. Very often, part of their disease is that they don't think they have a disease."

But, says Wilson, because of the "complex web of decentralized service providers...It's very hard for even the best re-entry planner to figure out how to hook someone up with mental health and substance abuse counseling in their local community."

According to the New York Daily News, St. Hubert's sister, Judith Perry, said that she told corrections officials that her brother had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and needed medication and supervision following his release. But Perry told the newspaper that St. Hubert's social worker said he wouldn't be able to see a doctor for several weeks. This despite that fact that, according to the New York Times, St. Hubert had been involuntarily committed to a state psychiatric hospital three times, and had a long record of disciplinary infractions - including assaults - in prison.

The New York State Department of Mental Health declined to comment to Crimesider on St. Hubert's mental health record or post-release treatment plan, citing privacy concerns.

In 1999, New York State enacted "Kendra's Law," which provides a system where people with severe mental illness can be court-ordered to undergo community based treatment. If a person is deemed eligible by a judge, the court can order community mental health officials to create a treatment plan and arrange for services. It is unclear if St. Hubert underwent a Kendra's Law hearing.

New York is not alone in its struggle to assist inmtes with severe mental illness upon re-entry into society. A recent study by the Treatment Advocacy Center found that there are approximately 350,000 people with severe mental illness in America's jails and prisons - 10 times the number in mental health hospitals.

But according to assistant professor Wilson's study, only 12 percent of former inmates with severe mental illness said that getting mental health treatment was one of their top two priorities upon release - that's because, she says, they had to worry about things like housing and food.

"We put a lot of the responsibility for getting to treatment on the individual," says Wilson. "But you have to have money to get there, and you have to remember what day of the week the appointment is on. And you have to have faith that the system will help you. A lot of people with serious mental illness who've been in services a long time haven't had a good experience."

  • Julia Dahl

    Julia Dahl writes about crime and justice for