Grand Central tourist stabbing shows urgent need for mental-health action


On Christmas Day, a stranger stabbed two tourists from Paraguay, both teenaged females, in Grand Central Terminal.

Like so many other random acts of street violence, this case illustrates the asymmetry in accountability between New York’s criminal-justice and mental-health systems.

About two weeks prior, the man accused of the stabbing, Steven Hutcherson, was released at a court hearing for a previous charge.

That was a mistake, but at least we know who to blame: Bronx Judge Matthew Grieco, who made the wrong call not to place someone in confinement who needed it.

The mental-health system also failed the public and Hutcherson (whose ex said was schizophrenic and not on his meds). But there is no equivalent figure in that context to Judge Grieco. Mental health in New York is delivered via a sprawling network that blurs accountability between various private, federal, state and city agencies.

In lieu of assigning specific blame to someone within that system for the Grand Central stabbing, the incident should serve as a reminder of the need for systemic mental-health reform.

Such a reminder is timely as Albany lawmakers are poised to begin next year’s legislative session. The agenda already looks crowded. Mayor Adams’ political future is now imperiled by the migrant crisis and the escalating city-budget deficit. As he crafts his annual “ask” from Albany this session, need for state assistance with those challenges looms large. Mental health is at risk of being crowded out.

What state legislators need to do is pass the Supportive Interventions Act.

That bill is designed to enhance Adams’ ongoing initiative on involuntary psychiatric commitment. When back in November 2022, Adams announced a new direction on serious mental illness, he made two things clear.

  • One, no longer would city government wait to intervene with someone with untreated psychosis until after that person had attacked someone.
  • Two, the city could not deal with serious mental illness on its own. State action was needed.

The Supportive Interventions Act, filed by Queens Assemblyman Edward Braunstein, a Democrat, would support city efforts in a few ways. It would revise state commitment law to insulate the city against lawsuits, require clinicians to take someone’s treatment history into consideration when evaluating his or her likelihood to thrive outside the hospital environment and, upon discharge from hospital, consider eligibility for Kendra’s Law, New York’s highly effective mandatory outpatient-treatment program.

The legislation would also allow a broader range of mental-health professionals to conduct clinical evaluations for commitment.

On mental illness policy, Gov. Hochul thus far deserves a “B” thanks to her work on building back New York’s psychiatric bed supply. Also helpful, with respect to bed supply, have been efforts by Bronx Rep. Ritchie Torres to pass federal legislation that would greenlight the use of Medicaid for inpatient psychiatric treatment.

Yet New York not only needs more psych beds, but a hospitalization process with more integrity.

Cops complain that even when beds are available, hospitals discharge patients recklessly early. Getting more police buy-in has been the biggest city-level obstacle Adams has encountered in trying to expand involuntary commitment.

Theoretically, the commitment process would be handled from start to finish by mental-health clinicians. In practice, police must initiate the commitment process because of their presence on the streets and subways where the most appropriate candidates will be found.

More access to more effective psychiatric hospitalization, by means of state reforms, will help change many cops’ minds that it’s worth it to intervene early and take people in for evaluation.

It has become a cliché to speak of people like Steven Hutcherson as having “fallen through the cracks” of New York’s generously funded but ineffective mental-health system.

True mental-health policy reform, while broadly supported by the public, also always seems to fall through the cracks of a political process in which so many voices are demanding so many things from distracted politicians.

Maybe someday politicians won’t need to rely on random stabbing attacks on teenagers to remind them that New York’s mental-health system is a disgrace. Sadly, that day has yet to arrive.

Stephen Eide is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of a forthcoming report on correctional mental-health care.

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