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New York Lawmakers Pushing 'Treatment Not Jails Act' -- More Comprehensive Support For Those In Legal System

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The suspect in the recent attack on an Asian woman in Chinatown was no stranger to law enforcement.

Alexander Wright's history of arrests is raising questions about what went wrong, CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas reported Thursday.

Wright's long list of arrests date back more than a decade, and progressively became more violent.

READ MORELawmakers Fed Up With Mental Illness, Homelessness Intersecting With Attacks On Asian-American Community

On May 27, just days before his Chinatown arrest, the 48-year-old pleaded guilty to throwing hot coffee in a traffic officer's face in January and attacking a man on East 72nd Street and Madison Avenue weeks earlier.

READ MOREPolice: Man Attacks Asian Woman With Cane At Upper Manhattan Subway Station

The judge allowed Wright's release on the condition that he complete five sessions with Manhattan Justice, which aims to connect offenders with community-based social services.

"People that were arrested multiple, multiple, multiple times and released, you know, mental illness is woven into this, potentially. We have to do better," NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said on CNN.

Wright is homeless and has been to jail numerous times.

Bail has been set repeatedly, and at least in Manhattan a judge has not ordered a psychological evaluation, according to the district attorney.

"Rikers Island is the largest mental health provider in the United States and that's very problematic," said Jeffrey Berman of the Legal Aid Society.

READ MOREMayor De Blasio Announces More Funding For Anti-Hate Initiatives Amid Increase In Anti-Asian, Anti-Semitic Attacks

Berman, a public defender, said generally there are too many barriers to getting interventions earlier for mental health and substance abuse, especially in Manhattan.

"Prosecutors, who the ones who decide who wins the lottery to receive court-mandated treatment as part of their criminal case and who will instead go to prison," Berman said.

After serving time, many are released into shelters and their lives become destabilized.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has touted additional investments made aimed at providing support, all while innocent victims bear the brunt of the disconnect.

"It's putting New Yorkers at risk. I mean, this is just, it is craziness," Shea said.

That's why state lawmakers are advocating for what's described as groundbreaking legislation dubbed the "Treatment Not Jails Act," which would mandate a more comprehensive continuum of mental health support for those in the legal system.

"We need to let health care providers make decisions on what is the appropriate treatment, not judges and prosecutors," Berman said.

It's an attempt to slow the revolving door of the legal system and address the root of the problems.

The Treatment Not Jails Act legislation is making its way through the legislative process. It is sponsored by Queens state Sen. Jessica Ramos, whose district borders Rikers Island.

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