Gov. Cuomo Aims to Aid Former Prisoners

On Tuesday, Nov. 22, Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement regarding a $10 million budget in which will be utilized to support organizations that focus on the assimilation of citizens facing either past or current incarceration into life after their sentence.

Cuomo believes the grants are critical in providing those seeking to turn their lives around with the tools and resources to do so. The grants, aside from funding programs that deal with job training and mental health counseling, will be used to create a county reentry task force in Queens along with enabling 19 other task forces to aid more people returning to their communities after finishing a state prison sentence.

The first $6.4 million in funding will be granted to 13 different agencies and nonprofit organizations across the state to provide career training services to those on parole, supervised by probation or those fulfilling court required programs. This money will be divvied up statewide and, for the first time, services like mental health counseling will be readily available for those in Orleans, Ontario, Steuben, Tompkins and Wayne counties.

These organizations receiving state supported funding will use evidence-based strategies to do what Cuomo calls “break[ing] the cycle of recidivism and incarceration.”

Cuomo believes this will enable citizens to lead more productive lives and keep communities safe.

The programs, lasting from three months to a year, include job placement services, cognitive behavioral intervention and services to increase job readiness, including transitional employment.

The remaining $4 million in grants will be split to fund the creation of the new County Reentry Task Force in Queens and will allow 19 existing Task Forces to hire a coordinator and serve more individuals in Albany, Broome, Bronx, Dutchess, Erie, Kings, Monroe, Nassau, New York, Niagara, Oneida, Onondaga, Orange, Rensselaer, Rockland, Schenectady, Suffolk, Ulster and Westchester counties.

The goal of the collective 20 task forces is to help approximately 5,000 individuals return to their counties. The individuals being aided are those being described as needing coordinated substance abuse and mental health treatment; job training, placement and skill development; and cognitive behavioral interventions that are designed to help individuals alter the line of thinking that tends to lead to criminal behavior. The interventions also improve positive motivation and develop social skills.

University Police Chief David Dugatkin sees this state investment as the perfect opportunity and has a lot of possibility for being efficient. 

“If the state is behind it, I think it would be a great program,” Dugatkin said. “There are programs in prison to help assimilate people back to living their lives but something after the fact would be a great way to get them on the right track.”

Dugatkin explained that sometimes people are serving sentences for things they believe to be out of their control, more specifically, a lack of job or education. With proper training and learning processes, those seeking to change the track they are on will have more than enough resources to lead a crime-free life.

Regarding crime on campus, Dugatkin said that, thankfully, there isn’t much of a trend of repeat offenders.

“This might be due to the fact that the crimes we see on campus are low level crimes,” he said. “They are crimes of opportunity- crimes of nuisance made by young adults via poor choices.”

According the Dugatkin, the campus handles disciplinary issues very similarly to the task forces, just on a much smaller scale. 

“Depending on what the offense is, whether it is drug or alcohol related, there are classes that the students have to take to educate them,” he said. “The residence staff does a phenomenal job having talks with students and discussing with them the consequences of their actions and  how they can learn from them in the future.”

Much like Dugatkin, President of the Mid Hudson Chiefs Association and Chief of Police of Saugerties Police Department Joe Sinagra believes that the money will be well spent.

“People are human and make mistakes,” Sinagra said. “Some mistakes are worse than others, and usually committed out of a temporary lapse of good judgment, frustration with current economic status, or simply lack of common sense. For those who go to jail and honestly want to be rehabilitated, upon their return to society, find out that they are wearing a scarlet letter of having been incarcerated.”

Sinagra laments the responsibility for us to provide education, counseling and remedial training to those once removed from society and now returning in order to create the best possible environment for their successful reintegration.

After 29 years in law enforcement, Sinagra discusses the degree to which individuals feel the need to commit repeat offenses in order to survive.

“Recidivism – for most, not all – can be eliminated if we as a society spend the time and money to ensure those released from prison have purpose, objectives and most importantly the skill set to succeed,” he said. “People have basic common needs that they require in order to survive: food, shelter and purpose.”