Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

New York State
Department of Correctional Services
David A. Paterson, Governor
Brian Fischer, Commissioner

Contact: Erik Kriss
Office of Public Information
(518) 457-8182

For immediate release:

June 4, 2008

Australian Executives visit Arthur Kill Correctional Facility to See Program That Helps Inmates with Developmental Disabilities Prepare for Life After Prison

Nine executive leaders from seven Australian non-profit disability group organizations visited Arthur Kill Correctional Facility on Staten Island today to learn about its “Inmate to Citizen” project, which helps inmates with developmental disabilities prepare for life after their release from prison.

The project focuses on “person-centered planning,” which involves identifying each inmate’s potential strengths and developing an individualized program that builds upon those strengths to prepare the individual for community living, learning and working upon release. Vocational training and the development of personal goals by the inmates themselves are part of the process.

The Australian officials toured Arthur Kill’s “Special Needs Unit,” (SNU) one of three such units operated by the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) in which inmates with developmental disabilities are placed, and out of which the Inmate to Citizen project operates. The other SNU’s are located at Sullivan and Wende Correctional Facilities in Sullivan and Erie counties, respectively.

DOCS operates the Inmate to Citizen project in conjunction with The Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations Employment and Disability Institute and the New York State Division of Parole, and under the sponsorship of the New York State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. The project is in its fifth year, and Cornell has received about $950,000 in funding for the project during that period from the DDPC.

Additional funding is being considered for improvements in discharge planning for inmates and collaboration with community organizations, initially in New York City, that could potentially assist or employ ex-offenders.

The Arthur Kill visit is part of an “executive study tour” in which the Australian executives are examining innovative practices aimed at helping people with disabilities gain employment. Today’s stop in Staten Island was also scheduled to include a visit to the New York State Office of Mental Health’s South Beach Psychiatric Center to see the “Career Development Initiative,” which involves 16 state-operated psychiatric hospitals working to facilitate access to community-based employment options. Next week, the Australian officials are scheduled to visit Washington, D.C.

DOCS Commissioner Brian Fischer said: “I am proud that the work of our agency, in conjunction with Cornell, the Office of Mental Health, and the Division of Parole, is being seen as a model for non-profit organizations literally from the other side of the world dealing with persons with disabilities. Hopefully we and our Australian visitors can learn from one another and we can make new improvements to a project that is helping assist offenders with disabilities to become law-abiding citizens with jobs – and with an important sense of dignity.”

Arthur Kill Superintendent Dennis Breslin, DOCS’ Assistant Commissioner for Mental Health Howard Holanchock, Sullivan Superintendent James Walsh, DDPC Program Planner Jim Huben and Cornell University’s Carol Blessing, Inmate to Citizen project director, joined the Australian executives for the visit to Arthur Kill.

Ms. Blessing said: “The issue of successful re-entry is a global one. This is a remarkable opportunity for the New York State Department of Correctional Services to highlight innovation in programming that ‘starts with the end in mind’ to prepare its inmates for a successful transition back into the community as productive citizens.”

Division of Parole Chairman and CEO George B. Alexander said: “Our collaborative efforts, along with those of our community-based partners on initiatives, we believe best address the needs of special populations during their incarceration as well as the period of transition to the community. Public safety and successful transition are enhanced by this joint effort to employ person-centered practices in correctional programming and discharge planning. The next phase of this project is the development of community resources to further success at reentry of this special needs population.”

DDPC Executive Director Sheila Carey said: “This pilot is the first of its kind in the country and is generating national and international interest.” She said council members’ goal is to help people with developmental disabilities in the criminal justice system – a highly underserved population, educate Parole and Correctional Services staff on developmental disabilities and how to access the supports a person with developmental disabilities will need to live as independently as possible once back in the community, and reduce the number of people returning to prison by combining person-centered planning with release planning.

Fred Heidt, general manager of Australia’s Youthinc., said: “We want to meet and interact with practitioners and support organisations that are willing to share ideas and experiences that will help the development of disability employment programs in Australia.”

The nine Australian executives on the visit are:

  • Freddie Brincat, CEO, Community Bridging Services.
  • Corrie Anne Van Der Keyl, program manager, Community Bridging Services.
  • John Henry Simpson, CEO, Finding Workable Solutions.
  • Philip John Nadin, CEO, PRA.
  • Gary Robert Hooper, CEO, STEPS Employment.
  • Christine Theresa Sanger, CEO, Personnel Employment.
  • Tracey Lee Fraser, program manager, Personnel Employment.
  • Jackson Aris David Wade, director, Strategic Leverage P/L.
  • John Frederick Heidt, general manager, Youthinc.