Testimony of Brian Fischer, Commissioner
NYS Dept. of Corrections and Community Supervision
Before the NYS Assembly Standing Committee on Correction
Thursday, November 10, 2011

As Commissioner of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, I am pleased to be here today and provide testimony to the members of the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Correction on the recent merger of the former Department of Correctional Services and the Division of Parole.

The merger of the Department of Correctional Services and the Division of Parole should be seen in three parts: history, current and potential.

While the two agencies were merged in the 1970’s, they were merged in name only. No real effort was made to incorporate each other’s data, communication systems or policies. Each co-existed and functioned in parallel environments.

Today the two agencies are working together with a single purpose and mission, responsible for over 95,000 persons; 56,000+ confined inside prisons and 38,000+ under community supervision.

With 29,000+ prison staff, 1,600+ community staff, and 72 staff assigned to the Parole Board, this new single agency creates the proper continuum of services for persons sent to prison, released from prison, supervised in the community, and when necessary, returned to prison.

While many positive changes have already taken place, the true benefit of the merger will be seen over time and will include greater efficiencies, open communication and data sharing, and enhanced public safety. Success will come in stages, from the immediate to the long term. However, judging the merger after just seven months does not provide time for a meaningful picture.

In coming together, no new mission was necessary, only a blending of the two mission statements into a more comprehensive approach to the now shared mission: preparing inmates for re-entry and providing support to parolees in the community with the goal of better public safety.

Integrating the systems started with Central Office units dealing with support and administrative services, budget and finance, IT, labor relations, research, diversity management, human resources and personnel, just to name a few.

A new Deputy Commissioner and an Assistant Commissioner for Community Supervision are now both part of the new agency’s Executive Team. In addition, we established 7 Regional Directors within Community Supervision, each seen equal to the 9 Supervising HUB Superintendents within Corrections. Shortly, a realignment of Facility Parole Officers with Correction Counselors under the Deputy Superintendent for Programs within the prison system will be accomplished.

While there were concerns over cultural changes, concerns were misplaced. The two groups are learning the roles each has played and can already see similarities and differences more clearly. To deny each side distinct historical and cultural experiences would be a disservice to all participants. A new agency culture will develop by itself; it cannot be imposed from the outside. That culture will emphasize safety, treatment, re-entry and supervision.

Savings assumptions were developed when the Executive Budget was enacted understanding that there would follow a process of assessment, review and implementing that will lead to savings. They will come through operational efficiencies, shared services, and reduction in duplication this year and as we develop next year’s budget. From the beginning, the savings goal was made part of the agency’s fiscal plan and is continuously reviewed with DOB input. Lastly, savings will come from across the board, not solely from one or the other component.

While each component has its own operational manual and set of policies, work has begun to incorporate them into one manual where appropriate by reviewing each as they rise to the surface, and all directives are reviewed annually by members of the Department’s Executive Team. Operational requirements for prisons are entirely different from those for Community Supervision requirements.

Since many policies deal with administrative and personnel issues, appropriate labor/management involvement requires discussion and negotiation. On that issue, PEF members from Parole asked for a separate labor/management meeting, which was held and generated positive results.

Efforts in re-entry continue to be in the area of working with community resources for parolees and in preparing inmates while in prison with appropriate skills. Community Supervision managers have and will continue to take the lead on many community-based initiatives via contracts, referral processes and case management.

Parole Officer caseloads have remained relatively consistent, though often higher than they should be due to staffing issues. Contacts between Parole Officers and parolees, including employment and home contacts, remain as they were and in accordance with agency standards.

As part of our expanding “graduated sanctions” approach, we are developing an Edgecombe-like program for the state’s western counties. Instead of being returned to prison for 3-6 months, problem parolees will be placed in a 45-day intervention program at a newly designated residential treatment facility Such “outside the box” thinking has become far easier and more detailed now that the two agencies are working as one.

Likewise, we are continuing to assess prison programs to determine which have the greatest impact on providing needed skills to inmates. Academic education and enhanced computer literacy are of primary importance. With facility parole staff working in unison with correction counselors, and field parole staff picking up on work done inside, information sharing has become easier and more informative for everyone. The goal is clear; meet the needs of the offender upon his/her arrival in the system, as he/she gets ready to be released, and while in the community.

More than any initiative, the implementation of TAP (Transitional Accountability Plan) and COMPAS (risk/needs assessment) is rapidly becoming the foundation of an evidence-based, best practices approach. With TAP being started upon an inmate’s first facility assignment, updated by both counselors and parole staff throughout his/her incarceration, used to provide the Parole Board or Community Supervision staff with identified needs and plans, a fuller assessment of each offenders strengths, weakness and accomplishments will be documented.

At the same time, the use of COMPAS by both facility and field parole staff will add a new dynamic to our ability to assess risk factors, make better caseload assignments and maximize the use of graduated sanctions when called for.

Looking ahead, it will not take long for the new agency to show real progress, particularly in creating a single, comprehensive and effective organization that provides needed services and supervision to those we are responsible for.

Thank you.