Contact: Janine Kava, Press Office
New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services
(518) 457-8828
janine.kava@dcjs.ny.gov
www.criminaljustice.ny.gov
For immediate release: Friday, Oct. 26, 2007

DCJS awards grants to establish Re-Entry Task Forces in Dutchess, Niagara and Onondaga counties 

New York State has expanded its efforts to help communities improve the way they provide services to offenders who are released from prison – with the ultimate goal of increasing public safety by reducing recidivism – by awarding new grants to Dutchess, Niagara and Onondaga counties so they can establish County Re-Entry Task Forces.

The state Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) recently awarded the three, $100,000 grants to those counties, bringing the total number of DCJS-funded re-entry task forces in the state to 12.

Dutchess, Niagara and Onondaga counties will use the grant funds to hire re-entry coordinators who will work with a diverse group of agencies in their respective communities – including police departments, parole, probation, mental health and social service providers – to identify gaps in service and provide coordinated services to offenders who have a high risk of recidivism and have re-integration needs, such as housing, employment and substance abuse treatment, that can be difficult to address.

“Re-entry is a vital component of our criminal justice strategy,” said DCJS Commissioner Denise E. O’Donnell, who also serves as assistant secretary to the governor for criminal justice. “We know that a returning offender’s ability to adjust to life outside prison is linked to his or her success in obtaining housing, securing employment and dealing with drug or alcohol dependency and other health-related issues.

“These local task forces are specifically designed to address those issues in a very county-specific and offender-specific way, with the ultimate goal of reducing recidivism, rebuilding lives and enhancing public safety,” she added.

DCJS awarded its first round of re-entry task force grants in 2006 to nine counties: Erie, Monroe, Nassau, Oneida, Orange, Rensselaer, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester. Those counties also received funding to continue their work for a second year.

“The pursuit of this grant is in keeping with the interests of the Dutchess County Criminal Justice Council to enhance long-term public safety through the application of evidence-based initiatives,” said Gary E. Christensen, chairman of the council, which advises Dutchess County government and may assist in the development of ways to relieve jail overcrowding, improve case processing and dispositions, and encourage and monitor alternatives to incarceration.

Since reducing recidivism is seen as a key to reducing crime, DCJS made the re-entry grants available to the 17 counties participating in Operation IMPACT. That program is designed to reduce violent and gun crime in the counties in upstate and on Long Island that account for 80 percent of the crime in the state outside of New York City.

Niagara County submitted an application to establish a task force based upon its collaboration with the state Division of Parole’s local office and concerns that there was no coordination of services for high-risk offenders transitioning from prison to the community, according to Anthony Mauro, probation director for Niagara County.

“One thing we have learned after several years of participating in Operation IMPACT is that so much more can be accomplished once collaborations are established between local law enforcement agencies,” Mauro said. “The Re-entry Task Force gives us the opportunity not only to bring those law enforcement agencies together, but to also include human service providers and community members input that will offer the returning offender the best opportunity at a successful transition.”

The expansion of the county re-entry task forces also dovetails with work being done by the state’s Interagency Re-Entry Task Force, which is comprised of 13 criminal justice and human service agencies working together to develop best practices that can be implemented at the state level to aid and improve offender re-entry.

Each year, approximately 26,000 offenders are released from New York State prisons and return to local communities. According to Rev. Bill Lott, chairman of Onondaga County’s Re-Entry Task Force, the number of offenders in that county either on parole or another form of supervised release has increased by 21 percent from 2005 to 2006, and officials there expect that number to continue to grow.

“A Re-entry Task Force to help returning offenders overcome the challenges of joblessness, lack of marketable job skills, issues of homelessness, illiteracy, substance use and/or mental health problems will prevent many of these ex-offenders from returning to criminal activity and increase the likelihood that they will become productive citizens who can make a positive contribution to the welfare of their neighborhoods in particular and our society in general,” Lott said.

Added Onondaga County District Attorney William J. Fitzpatrick, whose office applied for the grant: “I have always believed that effective public safety requires programs emphasizing prevention and education in addition to suppressing crime.”

“This re-entry grant will greatly assist our efforts in helping those who truly want to change their lives of criminal conduct, destructive behavior and drug abuse to becoming productive, responsible citizens,” Fitzpatrick added.

DCJS and the state Division of Parole are working in partnership with the local re-entry task forces to identify high-risk offenders who would be best served by the task forces. Since the inception of the nine initial county re-entry task forces in 2006 – in Erie, Monroe, Nassau, Oneida, Orange, Rensselaer, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester counties – a total of 800 offenders have been accepted for services. Through the task forces, those individuals receive coordinated services – addressing therapy and treatment that gets at the root of destructive behaviors and influences as well as needs such as housing and employment – designed to aid their transition back into their communities.

In addition to serving individual offenders, re-entry task forces, through their coordinator, also must oversee a comprehensive assessment of the community resources available in their counties, with the goal of enhancing existing partnerships or developing new relationships to better serve offenders’ needs.