DOCCS expects Jail to Jobs to net ‘positive results’

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul delivers her first State of the State address in the Assembly Chamber at the state Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, Pool)

ALBANY — The state Department of Correction and Community Supervision welcomes proposals Gov. Kathy Hochul included in her State of the State address legislative priorities to assist incarcerated people secure employment after release, officials said Thursday.

Hochul announced a new Jail to Jobs initiative in her State of the State address delivered in the Assembly chamber Wednesday afternoon to expand higher education opportunities for incarcerated New Yorkers to have additional work skills and improve employment opportunities after release.

The initiative is also aimed at helping reduce recidivism rates and increase public safety.

“Obviously, the department has continuously reviewed and added training programs to what is available to incarcerated individuals in preparation for their release back to the community,” DOCCS spokesman Thomas Mailey said in a statement Thursday.

The new initiative will make training available to incarcerated people to obtain a commercial driver’s license.

“Vocational training and education all contribute positively to an individual’s successful reentry to the community and there is substantial evidence to support these programs and the impact that they have in reducing reoffending,” Mailey added.

DOCCS and the state Division of Criminal Justice Services will train 100 state parole officers and re-entry specialists this year about career planning and job placement to assist formerly incarcerated people successfully return to their family and community. All of the state’s 700 parole officers will receive the training by 2023.

“Rehabilitation for incarcerated individuals begins from the moment they step into prison when they are evaluated and designated into specific programs to meet their rehabilitation needs,” Mailey said. “That programming continues throughout the duration of their sentence, in addition to re-entry services such as education, job readiness, community resourcing, substance abuse and rules of post-release supervision.”

Department programs include guidance and counseling services, library and law library services, religious services, educational and vocational training, alcohol and substance abuse treatment, family development, among others, he said.

Hochul will propose to amend the state Constitution as part of the Jail to Jobs plan to allow for public-private partnerships to enable hybrid work-release programs within state prison facilities. The programs would be voluntary and pay competitive wages while training incarcerated people with job skills.

Incarcerated people who participate in correctional education programs are 43% less likely to be charged with criminal offenses after release and are 13% more likely to obtain and retain employment.

Taxpayers save roughly $5 for every $1 invested in prison education, which reduces recidivism rates, according to the governor’s office.

“There is no justice in a system that continues to unduly punish formerly incarcerated individuals who have served their time and paid their debts to society,” Hochul said in a prepared statement about the new initiative. “We know how the proper training, opportunity or college degree can lift up any New Yorker no matter where you come from, which is why we must harness the power of education to help formerly incarcerated individuals with re-entry, while also ensuring the justice system itself doesn’t stand in the way of someone trying to improve their life.”

The governor also pledged to amend the state Constitution to allow a public-private partnership to expand in-prison work opportunities.

The department is encouraged by the proposals, officials said.

“We believe this legislation will bring about positive results as it will allow us to tap into the private sector and partner with the many businesses and people who want to do something constructive for the incarcerated,” Mailey said.

Hochul will propose legislation this session to expand the number of incarcerated people who qualify to participate in educational release. Incarcerated people may be released for educational, vocational or related purposes for up to 14 hours per day under current state law, but the majority of people behind bars who are enrolled in college do not qualify because of the nature of their crime.

The governor will direct DOCCS to review and expand current vocational programming. The department conducts site visits to colleges, businesses and trade schools within its vocational programs on a continuous basis, Mailey said.

Hochul’s speech did not include incentives or reforms for corrections officers or prison staff.

Representatives with the state Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association said Thursday the union does not typically respond to the governor’s state of the state address and declined to comment.

NYSCOPBA President Michael Powers did not return a request for comment.

Leaders with the Police Benevolent Association of New York State on Thursday expressed disappointment Hochul’s legislative priorities did not include proposals to assist statewide law enforcement with investments to overcome staff shortages, which impact their ability to respond people needing mental health intervention.

“We’re losing officers every day across the state to local police departments that provide better retirement benefits and compensation and that’s creating serious staffing and experience shortages that will prevent us from being able to respond to people experiencing mental health crises,” Police Benevolent Association of New York State President Manny Vilar said Thursday. “... “As Gov. Hochul prepares to submit her budget to the state Legislature PBANYS respectfully urges her to include the 20-year retirement as a critical component in implementing her agenda for a healthier, safer, cleaner and more equitable New York for all residents,”

The New York State Park Police, New York State University Police and state Department of Environmental Conservation officers and forest rangers have operated for almost three years without a contract. The agencies are one of the few New York police agencies without a 20-year retirement benefit.

Vilar said staffing levels remain dangerously low for several reasons established under former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, such as his move in 2019 to merge the State Park Police with the New York State Police troopers, resulting in no State Park Police Academy since spring of that year.

Park police numbers have dwindled from 387 to 190 officers amid an exponential rise in park visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic, the union president said.

“Because of former Gov. Cuomo, PBANYS members work under outdated contracts — creating a wide pay disparity with municipal and state law enforcement agencies,” Vilar said. “In addition, poor recruitment, the failure to run academy classes, and an antiquated retirement system that incentivizes PBANYS officers to seek out jobs with other agencies have led to a mass exodus from PBANYS member agencies. These loses are unsustainable and threaten public health and safety.”

Hochul recently expressed support to negotiate 20-year retirement for all PBA members — a discussion the union is ready to have, Vilar said.

“Gov. Hochul’s signal that she wishes to work with our union is a refreshing change to the way Albany has traditionally worked and a clear sign that she shares our commitment to doing everything we can to keep New Yorkers healthy and safe,” he said. “No person who puts their life on the line to protect and serve New Yorkers should be forced to make the difficult choice between remaining with the agency they love or providing for their family.”

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