Jun 12, 2014

New York State Reentry Task Force 2014 Annual Meeting and Criminal Justice Trends

Yesterday, the Manhattan Reentry Task Force's leadership (Co-chairs, Lee Tennyson, Bureau Chief from New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), Chris Watler, Project Director of the Harlem Community Justice Center) and I joined the 19 New York State County Reentry Task Forces and criminal justice leaders from across the state for our first Annual County Reentry Task Force Meeting. The goal of the meeting was to highlight the promising reentry work that is being done across the state, share best practices, learn about criminal justice trends, and hear directly from state leadership.

The New York State County Reentry Task Force Initiative, spearheaded and funded by the Division of Criminal Justice services "allows counties to employ reentry coordinators who work with a diverse group of agencies - including police departments, community supervision agencies, mental health and social service providers - to identify gaps in service and provide coordinated services to offenders at a high risk of recidivism with needs such as housing, employment and substance abuse treatment."

Anthony Annucci, Acting Commissioner, NY State
New York State DOCCS Acting Commissioner Anthony Annuci, kicked the day off by observing that "not until very recently was the term 'reentry' part of the criminal justice language." He praised the work of the Task Forces, noting that the 2500 individuals released each month from the 58 Correctional Facilities across the state all benefited from the Task Force's hard work. To drive home the point, he read the eloquent words of Larry White, a formerly incarcerated man who "dreamt of going many places [ over his 30 years of incarceration], but found himself most frequently, on a park bench [after release]."
Thomas Abt, Deputy Secretary for Public Safety, New York State
Thomas Abt, the Governor's Deputy Secretary for Public Safety, called the work of the Reentry Task Forces" a special type of public service" and communicated his priorities for enhancing public safety: behavior change of high risk individuals via cognitive behavioral interventions and the power of swift and certain sanctions. He also introduced a new project called, RESET (more to come!), which will be a fundamental shift in way the parole supervision takes place in the state. Additionally, Mr.Abt announced the creation of the Governor's new Reentry Council, which, will examine the thousands of collateral consequences to convictions and the "incredible cumulative effect" that is often "counterproductive" to our public safety goals.

Before launching into panels that examined best reentry practices across the state, Tery Salo, DCJS Deputy Commissioner, reviewed the latest New York State Criminal Justice trends that many continue to describe as the "New York Miracle." Here are some of the most salient:

Crime and Imprisonment Rates:
  • New York State crime is down 62% since 1990, with NYC's crime rate dropping by 73%.
  • Violent crime is down 64% since 1990, with NYC's violent crime dropping 70% and the rest of the state dropping 36%.
  • Statewide all homicides are down 75%, with NYC's homicide rate dropping 85%.
  • Since 1990, NYS' crime rate has declined at a greater rate that the rest of the country.  (64% versus 43%).
  • New York State has both the lowest crime rate and lowest imprisonment rate of any large state. (Texas has the highest crime rate with 3,770 per 100,000 individuals and New York with 2,329 per 100,000 individuals and the highest imprisonment rate with 606incarcerated per 100,000 individuals and New York with 276 per 1000,000 individuals.
Also dramatic is the decrease in felony drug related commitments and the increase in felony firearm commitments:
  • Felony drug commitments to prison are down 40% from 2008, the year prior to the Rockefeller Drug Law Reform. Since the law change, incarceration of black men for felony drug convictions are down 40%.
  • In 2013, 76% of individuals who received felony firearm convictions were sentenced to prison, the highest reported ever. Contrast this with 55.7% of individuals who were sentenced to prison on similar charges in 2004. The increase can be attributed to the increase in penalties for firearm conviction in 2006 and the change in prosecutorial policy around firearms.
Most directly pertinent to our reentry work was the information conveyed regarding the recidivism risk of those who are returning from prison. Of those formerly incarcerated individuals who have been assessed using an actuarial risk assessment as "high" and "moderate" risk (the population the Task Forces serve), 54%/37% respectively will be convicted of a new crime within 3 years, and 69%/43% respectively will be reconvicted within 5 years. For this reason, it is especially important that the Task Forces target higher risk offenders. (We also know that lower risk populations tend to do worse with more interventions!) As Ms. Salo remarked, if the Task Forces can eliminate the recidivism of 10% of 1,000 high risk individuals (69% of whom would otherwise return to prison within 5 years) we have 69 fewer individuals going back to prison and 179 crimes avoided (higher risk individuals tend to be more criminally active than lower risk populations).   

For more information on evidence based practices in recidivism reduction, click here.

Debbie Boar, Deputy Project Director, Harlem Community Justice Center, and Manhattan County Reentry Task Force Coordinator