Four long-time New Jersey advocates who played pivotal roles in the initial passage – and, the following year, resurrection – of the state’s new assisted outpatient treatment law have been named winners of the 2011 Torrey Advocacy Commendation. The award recognizes courage and tenacity in fighting – despite criticism and opposition – for the right to treatment of those too disabled by severe mental illness to seek or accept care.
“All four of these individuals have tirelessly dedicated themselves for years to saving lives by improving mental illness treatment laws in New Jersey,” said James Pavle, executive director. “And, when New Jersey in 2010 became the first state ever to suspend implementation of its law, all four committed themselves to ending the suspension. Each of them undertook these efforts under circumstances that would have deterred many people. Their effectiveness is matched by their selflessness, and we are delighted to salute them with this coveted award.”
Cathy and Mark Katsnelson are parents of Gregory Katsnelson, who was 11 years old when he was brutally killed in 2002 by a man with untreated paranoid schizophrenia. Despite their profound personal loss, the Katsnelsons became determined advocates for the statute unofficially known as “Gregory’s Law,” which took six years of advocacy to achieve passage. When Gov. Chris Christie suspended the law on the eve of its implementation in 2010, the Katsnelsons again spoke out about the need for the law to save other lives and families.
Sen. Richard J. Codey has been a champion for mental illness issues since the 1981 day when he first stepped onto the New Jersey Senate floor. Sen. Codey has challenged state officials to do a better job for those with mental illness at every turn. Early in his career, he exposed major problems in the state psychiatric hospitals by going “undercover” to expose abuse. Nearly two decades later, while governor, he established the Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health to report to him on the direction New Jersey should take in delivering improved services to its mentally ill, especially for those too ill to voluntarily access outpatient services. A champion for Gregory’s Law, his career-long advocacy led Mental Health America of Monmouth County to describe Sen. Codey as the state capital’s “strongest advocate for the mentally ill.”
Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver emerged as a staunch supporter of mental illness issues as chairwoman of the Assembly Human Services Committee. She was the primary sponsor of legislation providing social services and medical treatment for inmates with mental illness and of the bill that became Gregory’s Law. Her personal efforts helped at last win the bill’s passage and were renewed after the Christie administration delayed the law’s implementation. “This law is designed to make certain people who represent a danger to themselves are compliant with a treatment plan and a regiment of medication,” Speaker Oliver has said. “It will be tremendous help to families and those trying to overcome mental illness. It will save lives. It is the right thing to do."
Click to learn more about the Torrey Advocacy Commendation and previous winners.