An inmate uses a mirror to look outside his cell at the Los Angeles Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles, 19 May 2004.

An inmate uses a mirror to look outside his cell at the Los Angeles Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles, 19 May 2004.

Almost 20 years ago, a mentally ill man named Andrew Goldstein pushed Kendra Webdale into an oncoming train in New York City. She was killed instantly and Goldstein, who’d suffered from schizophrenia since childhood, was sent to prison.

The crime caught national attention, reinvigorating a debate about the care of people with severe mental illnesses.

That’s when Kendra’s Law—named after Webdale—was developed. It created “a statutory framework for court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment, A.O.T., to ensure that individuals with mental illness, and a history of hospitalizations or violence, participate in community-based services appropriate to their needs.” A.O.T. has since been adopted in some form in 46 states.

Goldstein got out of prison this month and as a condition of his release, he’ll enter a mental health system that’s been shaped by the crime he committed.

But are these treatment reforms actually working?

State Senator Catharine Young, one of the law’s chief supporters, told The New York Times:

One of the problems we have with the current Kendra’s Law is family members aren’t aware that it’s available as a resource.

The research clearly demonstrates that Kendra’s Law has been effective in helping the seriously mentally ill get the help they need and increasing public safety. However, it is greatly underutilized.

We’ll discuss how well A.O.T. programs are working and what else needs to change about our mental health system.

Show produced by Paige Osburn, text by Kathryn Fink.


  • Bill Keller Editor-in-chief, The Marshall Project; former executive editor, The New York Times; @billkeller2014
  • Eric Smith Graduate student in San Antonio, TX. Spent several years in Assisted Outpatient Treatment
  • Dr. Marvin Swartz Professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Duke University
  • Beth Haroules Senior staff attorney, NY-ACLU
  • State Sen. Catharine Young Republican state senator, representing New York State's 57th Senate district

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