Mental health, legal system to intersect at Neighborhood House

Town hall to address major issue set for Dec. 3


The Riverdale Neighborhood House will be location for a unique town hall Saturday, Dec. 3, that will focus on the intersection of the legal system and mental health.

The Urban Justice Center and Mental Health Project are hosting “Decriminalizing Mental Health and Creating Healthy and Safe Communities,” which will be co-sponsored by the Freedom Agenda, Inwood Indvisible, Northwest Bronx Indivisible and Behind The Arc, Jewish Action.

“I know there are lots of people in the community that already care about these issues,” said Ryan Acquaotta, the campaign coordinator for the Freedom Agenda. “We would love to grow the support in our community, for working on building this awareness and addressing it actively. I’d like us to think creatively that there’s more than one way to address the issues that we face. It’s not just demanding more police, more weapons, more surveillance, more cages. We also need more housing, more treatment, more jobs, more health care and education.”

The Mental Health Project has organized town halls in different neighborhoods. It hostsed one a few weeks ago at a Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn.

The goal is to conduct education in the community around different initiatives that the organization is aiming to address. They also want community members to learn some of the different ways that the current criminal legal system harms people struggling with mental illness, whether the individuals were policed, or whether they’re talking about how citizens’ cases are handled in the courts, or the kinds of conditions individuals endure, inside of jails and prisons.

The Urban Justice Center, along with the co-sponsors, wants the community to discuss such topics with each other. In addition to the presentation, there will be a questions and answers with community members.

Acquaotta is passionate about this initiative and looks forward to attending the upcoming town hall meeting. He reflected on how he is close to the subject because he’s passionate about the issues at hand and has had his extended family go through some of the issues the program wishes to address.

“My extended family has interacted with the police in the past, picked up a court case in the past,” he said.

“Some of my extended family members have been incarcerated before, and what I’ve learned from really reexamining these things that have happened to other people in my life, is that usually calling the police or sending somebody to a jail or prison didn’t fix the problems that got them into the situation in the first place.”

Acquaotta mentioned that the upcoming town hall will talk about how the community should interpret and act in different scenarios that could happen. He mentioned that the mental health crisis in America could affect any friend, family, or community member. He believes that the town hall could potentially get more people to think creatively about how to make the community a safer place.

“I am just really, really excited to have this conversation,” Acquaotta said. “This is work that I do that’s city-wide and I am excited about bringing that conversation into my home neighborhood. The place where I live where I’m raising my child and I’m excited to have these conversations with my neighbors.”

The Town Hall is open to everyone in the public. If you are interested and wish to attend it will be held at, the  Riverdale Neighborhood House, 5521 Mosholu Ave, Bronx, NY 10471. You can RSVP for the event at There will also be a virtual option where the meeting will be shown via Zoom.

Riverdale Neighborhood House, Freedom Agenda, Ryan Acquaotta, Mental Health Project, housing, Urban Justice Center, legal systems