NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced the creation of a task force that seeks to reduce the number of mentally ill inmates in New York City's jails.
The panel of government and private sector experts will try to come up with effective strategies to treat mentally ill people inside and outside the criminal justice system.
"For far too long, our city's jails have acted as de facto mental health facilities," de Blasio said in a statement. "Everyone deserves access to quality medical and mental health care — and addressing these needs within the criminal justice system will improve public safety for all New Yorkers."
The panel is to report to the mayor in September.
About 40 percent of the city's jail population has some form of mental illness. A third of those inmates suffer from serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
The initiative comes in the wake of Associated Press reports on the deaths of two mentally ill inmates at Rikers Island.
Last September, Bradley Ballard, 39, was found naked and unresponsive on the floor of his cell, covered in feces, his genitals swollen and badly infected, AP reported. He was rushed to a hospital but died hours later.
Ballard's mother, Beverly Ann Griffin, told 1010 WINS her son was locked in his cell alone for seven days and did not receive medication for his schizophrenia or diabetes.
Ballard's death last September, detailed in documents obtained by The Associated Press and in interviews with two city officials on condition of anonymity, came five months before another Rikers inmate in a similar mental health unit died in a cell that climbed to a suffocating 101 degrees because of malfunctioning heating equipment.
In February, former Marine Jerome Murdough, 56, was found dead in a 100-degree jail cell that overheated due to an equipment malfunction. He had been in the psychiatric section of Rikers and was supposed to be checked on every 15 minutes, but sources told CBS 2 he wasn't checked for four hours.
His mother filed a $25 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city and the Correction Department.
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