New York State
Department of Correctional Services
David A. Paterson, Governor
Brian Fischer, Commissioner
George B. Alexander, Chairman (Division of Parole)
For immediate release:
December 4, 2008
Department of Correctional Services Opens Specialized “Reentry” Unit to Prepare Inmates for Release to Monroe County; Follows Erie County Unit
The New York State Department of Correctional Services, in conjunction with the Division of Parole, recently opened a specialized “reentry” unit to help prepare male inmates due to be released to Monroe County for their transition back to the community.
Located at Orleans Correctional Facility, the Monroe unit follows the Department’s first-ever specialized reentry unit, for Erie County releases, which opened at Orleans in August 2007.
The two 60-bed units are located in adjacent dorms at the men’s medium security correctional facility in Albion, Orleans County, about midway between Rochester and Buffalo. The units are expected to serve as models for helping inmates nearing release prepare for their return to society.
DOCS and the Division of Parole collaborated with the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) and the Erie County and Monroe County Reentry Task Forces to create the transitional dorms, where DOCS transfers certain inmates who are within three to four months of release from prison for eventual return back to Erie and Monroe counties. The offenders meet in person with the parole officers, case workers, potential employers and others from their nearby home county who will form their key support network after release. Preparation for the transition back to society plays a critical role in ex-offenders’ success in obtaining employment and readjusting to their families and communities.
During their 90- to 120-day stay at the unit, participating inmates join with a team made up of DOCS and Parole officials, OASAS-certified providers and community- and faith-based agencies to assess each offender’s needs, ranging from possession of necessary documents to employment and housing opportunities and issues surrounding family reunification, on a case-by-case basis. Staff emphasize the inmate’s personal responsibilities in preparation for his return to the community.
Prior to release, participants:
- Are evaluated for job training, anger management, substance abuse counseling and/or other programs in the community, depending on their needs.
- Are given help applying for public benefits.
- Participate in role-playing such as mock job interviews that allow them to practice behavioral responses in relation to issues of employment and family reunification.
- Practice cover letter-writing.
- Use the Department of Labor’s Career Zone software.
DOCS is eyeing counties that have developed local reentry task forces as potential partners for future reentry units, including Albany, Dutchess, Niagara, Oneida, Onondaga, Orange, Rensselaer and Ulster counties. Like Orleans’, any additional reentry units would supplement the regular reentry programs and services DOCS has run since the 1970s.
“Reentry is a vital component of New York’s criminal justice strategy: when you reduce recidivism, you rebuild lives and enhance the public safety,” said Denise E. O’Donnell, Commissioner of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS). “It’s very clear that a returning offender’s ability to adjust to life outside prison is linked to his or her success in obtaining housing, securing employment, dealing with drug or alcohol dependency and other health-related issues. By working in tandem with Monroe County’s Reentry Task Force, this new unit will further pave the way so that offenders can make successful transitions back to their communities.”
Correctional Services Commissioner Brian Fischer said: “The transition between prison and society, especially for those inmates who have spent many years serving time, is often a difficult one. By providing the kind of personal contact that could make all the difference to an inmate’s successful readjustment to the community, these reentry units are invaluable to both the inmates and the citizens of Western New York.”
Division of Parole Chairman George B. Alexander said: “Introducing reentry programs to inmates in this setting equips them with tangible tools they can use to succeed in the community once they are released. Ultimately, public safety could improve because those leaving prison are able to deal with the challenges of the outside world constructively. We hope that this project will continue to expand beyond Monroe and Erie counties.”
OASAS Commissioner Karen M. Carpenter-Palumbo said: “Nearly 80 percent of parolees in New York have a substance abuse problem, so it is critical that we provide the assessments and treatment that will reduce recidivism and support their return to their communities. The successful outcomes from the Erie County model show us that we are doing the right thing by bringing these services to Monroe County with an OASAS-certified provider.”
The two reentry units employ a Supervising Correction Counselor, Correction Counselors for Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment and for Transitional Services, a Keyboard Specialist and a Supervisor of Volunteer Services from DOCS.
Seven facility and field Parole Officers from the Division of Parole meet with participants and help determine their risk level and the types of needs they may have after release.
So far, 218 inmates have been released after completing their stay at the Erie County unit. The first group of inmates is scheduled for release from the Monroe County unit in mid-January 2009.
Orleans Correctional Facility Superintendent Sibatu Khahaifa said: “We anticipate that the groundwork established in opening the Erie County Reentry Unit will serve us well in our efforts to operate an effective Monroe County Reentry Unit. Our contacts and collaborative meetings with the Monroe County Reentry Task Force and service providers have made excellent progress to date.
Elizabeth J. Wilk, Deputy Director of Upstate Reentry Program Services for the Division of Parole, said: “Initial feedback from inmates completing the program has been positive. We are optimistic that their experience with the program inside prison will translate into long-term success in the community.”
Patricia Warth, former managing attorney in the Buffalo office of Prisoners Legal Services and now Co-Director of Justice Strategies at the Center for Community Alternatives, a community-based program that provides services to offenders returning to the community from prison and a member of the DCJS-sponsored Statewide Reentry Advisory Group, said: “I am excited to see DOCS collaborate with organizations in the community to assist inmates, in a real way, to successfully reintegrate into the community.”
Besides the Legal Aid Society, representatives of the Labor Department, Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities (VESID) and the Office of Temporary Disability Assistance, as well as faith-based groups and community substance abuse treatment agencies and others have come to Orleans to make presentations about their services.
The Monroe County Reentry Task Force, one of 13 statewide funded by DCJS, is a collaboration of more than 50 agencies including treatment providers, faith-based groups, community organizations and human services agencies that help ex-offenders with employment, training, education, mental health counseling, mentoring, family reunification, substance abuse treatment, health care and housing needs.
Ann Graham, Monroe County Reentry Coordinator, said: “Monroe County Reentry Services at Catholic Family Center has been eagerly awaiting this initiative. Grouping together men who will return to Monroe County at one nearby facility makes possible a whole range of needed community-based services and supports, including more family contact, that would simply be unavailable when men are spread over the State’s 64 male correctional facilities. Commissioners O'Donnell, Fischer and Carpenter-Palumbo and Chairman Alexander are setting the trend in incorporating evidence-based services that help ensure safer communities.”
“Today’s inmate is tomorrow’s neighbor,” said William Burgin, Coordinator of Reentry Systems Initiatives for the Erie County Department of Mental Health.