Dec 14, 2009

State Reentry Leaders Gather

"We want to return to a balanced approach," Andrea Evans, Chairperson of the New York State Division of Parole, told an audience of reentry leaders gathered in Saratoga Springs, NY. She was joined by the state's other criminal justice and treatment commissioners: Brain Fischer, Commissioner of the State Division of Correctional Services, Karen Carpenter- Commissioner of the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services, and Deputy Secretary Denise O'Donnell. The conference was sponsored by the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services and U.S Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Commissioner Palumbo proclaimed that Rockefeller drug law reform should be renamed "Patterson drug law reform", after Governor David Patterson who signed into law the most sweeping reforms of New York State's drug laws in April.

New York State is in the midst of a ten-year justice reform effort following the National Institute of Corrections' Transition from Prison to Community (TPC) model. The reforms include: the development of local County Reentry Task Force programs, adoption of an actuarial risk and needs assessment tool, cognitive behavioral interventions, and enhanced in-prison substance abuse and mental health.

The rising cost of incarceration is helping to spur the need for reform. In New York, according to Commissioner Palumbo, it cost $40,000 per year on average to house a state inmate, compared to $30,000 for inpatient drug treatment, and $10,000 for outpatient drug treatment.

While the effort to reform the state's criminal justice system is truly historic, much remains to be done. Many, including some in the audience, point to some key challenges. Next year's gubernatorial election will undoubtedly slow progress. Also, long time parole and corrections officers may resist efforts that, while "evidence-based," entail some fundamental changes in the way they work. The state's worsening budget could also stall efforts.