For weeks, universal prekindergarten has dominated budget news coming out of Albany. So it might be surprising to learn that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget has actual good news for ex-offenders (or justice-involved persons).
Cuomo proposes restoring college classes at 10 state prisons, raising the age for felony offenders and funding a statewide Re-entry Council to recommend policies to reduce recidivism among newly released prisoners and parolees.
Tracie M. Gardner, policy director at the Legal Action Center, which supports creating a Re-entry Council, said that mentioning the Council in the State of the State address was a “cool thing” for Cuomo to do.
Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Jeffrion Aubry, while supporting the initiative, isn’t sure what the Council is supposed to do. When asked to elaborate before the Legislature’s joint hearing on public protection spending in the budget, the Division of Criminal Justice Services commissioner demurred without really sharing any information about how the $250,000 would be spent. Aubry rightly posits that the Council is unnecessary, since evidence already exists showing what specific kinds of policies and assistance best prevent ex-inmates from becoming repeat offenders.
In an email Glenn E. Martin, the founder of JustLeadershipUSA, pointed out that upstate communities have been seeded with much needed services for the thousands of men and women returning annually from prison to upstate New York.
County Re-entry Task Forces (CRTF) in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx (three of 19 such task forces statewide) have brought together community stakeholders and the Division of Criminal Justice Services to provide recent parolees with transitional assistance.
Statewide over 75 percent of CRTF parolees have job placement, drug abuse and social service needs. Only one-quarter of them report working full- or part-time jobs.
In 2012, fewer than 10 percent of the New York City participants were arrested for parole violations or rearrested for new crimes.
Last October, the Think Outside the Cell Foundation hosted the NYC Prison to Prosperity business competition at Lehman College in the Bronx. At-risk youth and adult ex-offenders pitched their best business ideas to a group of New York corporate leaders led by Ed Lewis, co-founder of Essence magazine.
Assisting ex-offenders in acquiring business skills, start-up capital and renewed self-esteem puts them on the road to redemption, success and full taxpayer citizenship.
I know a number of former prison inmates, such as my best friend Ray L, who transformed their lives and families for the better after becoming drug-free, gaining job skills and acquiring gainful employment.
Recently I met a man who, after spending seven years in prison, is now developing a business plan for a cleaning service. He hopes to qualify for a small business loan that will enable him to get his business off the ground.
For those without connections, the County Re-entry Task Forces and the NYC Prison to Prosperity project are providing a helping hand.
“Formerly incarcerated citizens need to be introduced to necessary resources to help them transition back into society,” said Camella Pinkney- Price, former co-chair of the Bronx County Reentry Task Force.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo does not need another commission telling him what works to combat recidivism. He should reduce already identified barriers to employment, replicate the Re-entry Task Forces and give service providers more resources.
Formerly incarcerated people deserve opportunities and help to successfully participate in the civic and work life of our city. Cuomo’s election year inclusion of a statewide Re-entry Council must not just be cotton candy for advocates and ex-offenders.
A serious and immediate investment of resources will save scarce taxpayer dollars while enhancing public safety.
Tags: Albany, Andrew Cuomo, County Re-Entry Task Forces, CRTF, Division of Criminal Justice Services, Ed Lewis, Glenn Martin, Jeffrion Aubry, JustLeadershipUSA, Legal Action Center, prison reform, Prison to Prosperity, recidivism, Think Outside the Cell, Tracie Gardner