Mar 2, 2009

Congratulations to our Reentry Court Graduates!

Last Tuesday, twenty men and women graduated from the Parole Reentry Court at the Harlem Community Justice Center. They were honored by their families, peers, parole officers, and the larger Harlem community for their accomplishments in securing employment and stable housing, reconnecting with their families, and maintaining crime-free lives upon return from prison.

In fact, this is quite an accomplishment. As one of the graduates said, "This is the first thing I've ever completed in my life." Upon receiving his completion certificate, he described how he has reconnected with his fifteen-year-old daughter (for whose birth he was absent due to his incarceration) and met a "special woman to replace my mother in my life." His daughter, beaming at his remarks, gave a hearty applause for her dad when his parole officer publicly noted his determination to maintain his job, attend his programs, and reconnect with his loved ones.

In East Harlem, 1 in 20 males have been incarcerated along a reentry corridor from 126th Street to 119th Street (seven short blocks), representing the highest concentration in New York City (Justice Mapping Center, 2006). An additional 900 people who live in the area were admitted to the City’s jail system at the same time. Typically, about half the people who are released to parole supervision in New York State successfully complete parole.

A comprehensive approach to this issue, the Harlem Parole Reentry Court – located at the Harlem Community Justice Center -- helps parolees from the Harlem community make the transition from life in prison to responsible citizenship in the first six months of their release. Working in cooperation with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services and the Division of Parole, the Reentry Court provides ongoing judicial oversight to new parolees, linking them to a wide range of social services, including drug treatment, health care, mental health treatment and education. Wherever appropriate, these services are also offered to family members as well to help increase stability in the home. To promote increased accountability, participants are required to return to the Justice Center frequently to meet with case managers and parole officers and appear before an administrative law judge, who closely monitors their compliance with court orders. The goal of the program is to stabilize returning parolees in the initial phase of their reintegration by helping them find jobs, secure housing and assume familial and personal responsibilities.

A recent analysis of Reentry Court graduates showed that only 14% of graduates were actually convicted of a new crime within one year of program completion, and only 4% had their parole revoked for technical violations. The Reentry Court approach really works to help participants get their lives back on track.

The evening was not without a little prison humor. One of the graduates, a poet, closed the ceremony with some of his work, offering an anecdote about his arrival at the prison facility. As he was doing his laundry at the facility, he was approached by a large, imposing fellow prisoner. The man said "Do my laundry." As our graduate recounts: "I wanted him to know that I wasn't going to be pushed around, that he wasn't going to be able to control me. I paused for a minute and then said, 'I'm not going to fold it.'"