(WETM) – As part of her first State of the State address New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced a new ‘Jails to Jobs” initiative to “improve re-entry into the workforce and reduce recidivism by focusing on connecting previously incarcerated individuals with education, resources and opportunities for job placement.”
The proposal includes, among other plans, an expansion of higher learning opportunities, increasing post-release employment, expanding re-entry programs, and refocusing parole officers on job placement.
“There is no justice in a system that continues to unduly punish formerly incarcerated individuals who have served their time and paid their debts to society,” Governor Hochul said. “We know how the proper training, opportunity, or college degree can lift up any New Yorker no matter where you come from, which is why we must harness the power of education to help formerly incarcerated individuals with re-entry, while also ensuring the justice system itself doesn’t stand in the way of someone trying to improve their life.”
The Governor’s office says the expansion of higher-education opportunities for incarcerated populations provides “clear benefits by reducing recidivism, increasing post-release employment, and saving taxpayer money.”
Incarcerated people who participate in correctional education programs are 43 percent less likely to reoffend and 13 percent more likely to obtain and retain employment after returning to their community. The Governor’s office says taxpayers save roughly $5 for every $1 invested in prison education, and recidivism rates decrease due to this investment.
The Governor’s office outlined several steps of the Jails to Jobs plan:
Refocusing Parole Officers on Career Planning and Job Placement
To better support employment opportunities for parolees and further reduce recidivism, Governor Hochul will propose that the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) and the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DJCS) collaborate to train a network of nearly 100 of the State’s parole officers and re-entry specialists on career planning and job placement. The agencies will also provide evidence-based training and other labor-focused development programs, ensuring that all of New York’s parole and probation professionals are prepared to support each individual’s return to their family and community. By 2023, nearly all of the 700 parole officers in New York State would receive this workforce training.
Enabling Voluntary, Private-Sector, In-Prison Employment Opportunities that Pay a Competitive Wage
Governor Hochul will propose a constitutional amendment to allow for public-private partnerships that would enable hybrid work-release programs within prisons. These partnerships, which would be voluntary and pay a competitive wage, would provide critical private sector job skills to incarcerated individuals.
Expanding Vocational, Job Readiness, and Re-Entry Programs
To strengthen existing career programs, Governor Hochul will direct DOCCS to review and expand current vocational programming, such as the re-entry computer lab pilot, and implement new initiatives, including vocational training that would allow incarcerated individuals to obtain commercial driver’s licenses.
Restoring the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) for Incarcerated Individuals
Governor Hochul will propose legislation to reverse the longstanding ban on providing State financial aid to incarcerated individuals and require universities contracting with DOCCS provide career counseling and degrees with meaningful career paths.
Allowing for Educational Release as an Earned, Re-Entry Opportunity
State law currently allows for up to 14 hours per day of educational release for educational, vocational, or related purposes; however, the majority of incarcerated individuals enrolled in college do not qualify due to the nature of their crime. To remedy this, Governor Hochul will propose legislation to expand those eligible by allowing for incarcerated individuals who qualify for Limited Credit Time Allowance (LCTA) to participate in educational release, and to expedite the awarding of a six month LCTA credit against their sentence for this cohort.
Passing the Clean Slate Act
Governor Hochul will push to pass the Clean Slate Act, criminal justice reform legislation that would allow for certain felony records to be sealed after seven years and certain misdemeanor records be sealed after three years, following the completion of a sentence. To be eligible for records sealing, an individual would have to have completed their prison sentence and community supervision; not have been convicted of a sex crime; and not since have acquired subsequent convictions in New York State or have pending charges during the waiting period. Reasonable exceptions will be made for appropriate categories of employment.
Piloting a New Approach to Transitional Housing for Post-Incarceration Individuals
Governor Hochul will create a pilot program that aims to improve a formerly incarcerated individual’s ability to secure stable housing, preventing them from ending up in the shelter system. This pilot program would work with a residential treatment facility to provide stable housing for 90 days as the individual pursues a job and permanent housing.
Eliminating Outdated Supervision Fees to Reduce Barriers for Individuals Returning to Society After Incarceration
Under New York State’s current supervision fee statute, DOCCS is required to collect a supervision fee of $30.00 per month for each person over the age of 18 on parole and post-release supervision. But the parolee population has limited income and employment opportunities, and parolees often struggle to pay these fees, resulting in a low collection rate. To facilitate re-entry for more than 30,000 parolees, Governor Hochul will propose eliminating these outdated supervision fees, reducing the financial burden on parolees.
Fully Staffing the Parole Board and Prohibit Outside Employment for Board Members
State Law permits the Board of Parole to have up to 19 members, each appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate for a six-year term. However, as the parole board currently comprises just 15 members, Governor Hochul will nominate individuals to fill the four additional seats, increasing the board’s capacity to hear cases. Additionally, to further increase the board’s capacity and ensure that board members’ sole professional focus is on hearing cases, Governor Hochul will prohibit Parole Board Members from outside employment.
Facilitating Access to ID Cards and Other Vital Records to Enhance Opportunities for Released Persons
Incarcerated individuals often struggle to provide the documents needed to obtain a DMV Non-Driver ID card. To facilitate access to documentation needed post-incarceration that would assist in the issuance of a DMV Non-Driver ID card, Governor Hochul will propose legislation to permit a sentence and commitment or a certificate of conviction to be deemed authorization for DOCCS to obtain a certified birth certificate or transcript of birth on behalf of an incarcerated individual for the purpose of providing State identification upon release. Governor Hochul will also expand the successful pilot program established by DOCCS and DMV to process Non-Driver IDs for parolees to include a pilot program that allows for the issuance prior to the release of incarcerated individuals.