Services share ideas to break incarceration cycle

HUDSON–A variety of service providers discussed their relevance to people leaving jail at the ReEntry Task Force of Columbia County meeting July 11. Topics covered included both preparing current inmates for the outside world and helping former inmates adjust to it.

DaleAnn Brown, from the Section 8 (Housing) Central Office in Saratoga Springs, said that the rental voucher program decides whether to accept people with a criminal past “on a case-by-case basis.” The only people it preemptively excludes are those who have committed certain serious offenses. However, she said, although the waiting list for Section 8 vouchers is short, priority goes to families and the disabled, so some able-bodied singles end up “on the waiting list for years and years.” She added that some people from Greene County seek rental vouchers in Columbia County because here, “it’s easier to apply.”

Heather Martin, area coordinator of Literacy Connections, indicated the need for more male volunteers for its Reading and English as a New Language programs. These programs “don’t discriminate against criminal backgrounds,” but tutors for males with criminal records must be male, and over 90% of the current volunteers are female. Literacy Connections tutoring generally takes place at the library.

Ms. Martin and Laurie Scott also discussed the possibility of reading tutors for literacy-challenged people still in jail. Volunteers at the Hudson Correctional Facility are looking for speakers to address assemblies of 16 and 17-year-olds detained there.

Ms. Scott and Carolyn Polikarpus, directors of ReEntry Columbia, which helps people transition from incarceration to liberty, spoke about:

• Voter registration in the Columbia County Jail for non-felons

• Anger management classes in the jail, acknowledging one problem is “lack of enthusiasm among the inmates”

• Recovery dorms, housing units within jails designed to help inmates recover from heroin addiction. Inmates who want to enter these facilities must “earn” it by a “good disciplinary record” and an “interest in recovery,” said Ms. Scott. These facilities seek to help residents develop routines and lifestyles that do not include heroin, surround them with peer support and arrange for addiction recovery incentives to continue after their release. Albany County Jail has a recovery dorm, and under evaluation is whether something similar in Columbia County would add to the services already being provided in the county.

Carl Quinn of Greener Pathways, a program of Twin County Recovery Services, which helps people overcome substance addiction, said his mission was to “reach out to unserved and underserved people,” and “working with the at risk population.” That includes many ex-convicts.

Michael Cole, Columbia County director of Human Services, announced that the New York Senate’s Heroin Task Force had granted the county $156,000 for jail-based substance use disorder programs. Columbia was one of 17 counties that received such funds.

Keith Brown, director of health and harm reduction for the Brooklyn-headquartered Katal Center for Health, Equity and Justice, spoke about pre-arrest diversion. Under that model, when encountering someone who has committed a “low-level” offense, a police officer has the option of recommending that person for “aggressive case management” rather than arrest. This option is available only if the person “committed the offense in relation to an alcohol, drug, poverty, homelessness, or mental health need,” according to the operation protocol for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD). “We can’t arrest people out of these problems,” said Mr. Brown.

In addition, to qualify for diversion, both the person and the victim(s)–if any–must agree to it.

Mr. Brown spoke of police officers who have “already arrested this guy 15 times” welcoming an alternative to arresting the person a 16th time. And in Seattle, he said, where the first LEAD program started in 2011, LEAD participants showed a reduced recidivism rate. Now there are LEAD programs in several cities, including Albany, and Mr. Brown talked with Ms. Scott about starting one in Hudson.

LEAD, Mr. Brown said, is not “get out of jail free.” Each LEAD client gets a case manager, who, with the client, determines what services could help alleviate the condition that led to the offense and makes sure the client keeps appointments for these services.

True, Mr. Brown said, many people in the LEAD do eventually get arrested. Sometimes a police officer will notify a case manager: I saw your client doing _____ again.

But with standard approaches, “We have people cycle in and out of the [criminal justice] system without ever getting better,” he said.

The next meeting of the ReEntry Task Force will take place Wednesday, September 12, at 10 a.m. at 325 Columbia Street.

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