Month: March 2020

DAs Urge Reform to Stop Sending People Back to Prison

Each year, thousands of New Yorkers re-enter their communities on parole after prison. These are our neighbors who have served their time, paid their debt, and are working to succeed. But whether they make it on parole too often depends on their skin color. According to a new report by the Columbia Justice Lab, African Americans and Latinos are significantly more likely than their white peers to return to prison for non-criminal, technical parole violations. This extreme racial disparity is intolerable and demands immediate legislative action.

Parole should combine support with supervision, aiding people with housing, employment, training and counseling to drive down failure and help people succeed. That’s the fairest and best way to promote public safety.

Too often, parole functions as a revolving door back to incarceration, not for new criminal offenses, but for technical violations like missing appointments or drug use. People leaving New York’s prisons are six times as likely to return for technical violations than for new convictions. New York sends more people to prison for these technical violations than every state except Illinois, and people here are reincarcerated at nearly twice the national failure rate.

The data revealed Thursday by the Columbia Justice Lab is even more disturbing evidence of the urgent need for reform. Black and Latino people are imprisoned for technical violations at five and 1.3 times the rate of white people. Disparities like these undermine the sense of fairness on which the justice system relies and compound existing disadvantages.

The Columbia report also found that black and Latino people are locked up on Rikers Island just waiting for their parole cases to be resolved by state officials at a deeply troubling 12 and four times the rate of white people, respectively. Further, people reincarcerated for technical parole violations are the only population increasing on Rikers Island, jeopardizing the closure of that notorious jail.

People returning from prison face serious challenges that are not solved by reincarceration. They usually have few resources, have difficulty finding housing and employment, may have lost touch with support networks, and often suffer from mental health or substance use disorders. Yet, New York State and localities spent over $600 million last year to reincarcerate people for technical violations.

The New York State Bar Association recently established a diverse task force of judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys to examine parole, finding “little or no evidence” that technical violations enhanced public safety. According to the Task Force, “[I]ncarcerating people for technical parole violations plays a decidedly negative role in terms of integrating these persons back into the community, and is extremely costly in human and economic terms.” The Task Force concluded that their findings “strongly support legislative action to substantially reduce incarceration for technical parole violations.”

State Sen. Brian Benjamin and Assemblyman Walter Mosley have proposed legislation dubbed the Less Is More Act to effect just the kind of change the Task Force recommended. Less is More would incentivize good behavior among people on parole by granting 30 days of “merit time” for every 30 violation-free days.

It would reduce the number of conditions for which people can be locked up and, would shorten incarceration terms for technicals. Importantly, before someone accused of a technical violation could be jailed, they would have a hearing just like people accused of criminal offenses.

Now is the time to pass legislation cutting our state’s excessive use of reincarceration for technical violations targeted disproportionately at people of color. Then, the exorbitant money we are wasting on their reincarceration should be reinvested into programs that make us safer and help people succeed upon returning home.

Author: Darcel Clark, Eric Gonzalez and Cyrus Vance Jr.

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Mayor Bowser Cuts Ribbon on The Aya

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Today, Mayor Muriel Bowser cut the ribbon to The Aya, the Short-Term Family Housing site in Ward 6 and the latest of the eight sites opening in the District. This ribbon cutting is part of Mayor Bower’s strategic plan to end homelessness – Homeward DC – and continues the momentum toward reforming the District’s crisis response system for families experiencing homelessness.
“The Aya embodies our DC Values and serves as a reminder that when Washingtonians fall on hard times, neighbors in every ward across the District are here to help,” said Mayor Bowser. “This beautiful facility will serve as a landing spot for families that provides them with the support they need to get back to living the dignified and independent lives that they deserve.”
The Aya follows the openings of short-term family housing sites The Kennedy (Ward 4), The Sterling (Ward 5), The Horizon (Ward 7) and The Triumph (Ward 8). The W.J. Rolark opened in the summer of 2019 and is operating as a Short-Term Family Housing site in Ward 8 until it transitions to Permanent Supportive Housing. The Brooks, the Ward 3 Short-Term Family Housing site, is expected to open in April 2020, followed by the Ward 1 Short-Term Family Housing site, which is expected to open in Winter 2020-2021. The Bowser Administration also opened the Patricia Handy Place for Women, a low-barrier shelter in Ward 2, in early 2016.
“Together with our partners, the Bowser Administration has taken bold and meaningful action to grow and improve our services for District families experiencing homelessness,” said DC Department of Human Services Director Laura Zeilinger. “We stand committed to working with providers, landlords, advocates and DC Government partners to implement system reforms and strengthen programs that we know help to end homelessness.”
At The Aya, families will have access to service-enriched programming that will assist them stabilize and exit homelessness. The site includes fifty family units, on-site parking, an indoor play and activity space, a conference room, administrative space for staff and providers, and other amenities. The site is designed with several energy-efficient and sustainable features including a green roof, high efficiency windows, HVAC system, and plumbing fixtures.

Since the launch of Homeward DC in 2016, the District has reduced overall homelessness by more than 11% and has reduced family homelessness by 45%. A centerpiece of this work is the Homelessness Prevention Program, which has successfully prevented a shelter stay for more than 7,000 District families. In addition to making unprecedented investments in affordable housing opportunities, Mayor Bowser’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget included $47 million to support homeless services, including the creation of a comprehensive street outreach network to connect unsheltered individuals to vital housing first supports.

Date: February 21, 2020

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DYCD Shelters Provide Crucial Services to Young People

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As New York City continues to contend with an historic homelessness crisis, the agency tasked with serving homeless youth has gradually increased its shelter capacity, providing temporary accommodations for hundreds of teens and young adults.

Advocates and some local lawmakers, including Speaker Corey Johnson, say there is much more the city can do to help so-called “runaway and homeless youth” find shelter and access permanent housing, however.

The Department of Youth and Community Development now operates 753 shelter beds for young people between ages 16 and 20 across the city, a 22 percent increase from the beginning of the last fiscal year, and a 500-bed increase over what existed when Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in 2014. DYCD has opened another 25 beds for young adults ages 21 to 24, with 35 more beds — for a total of 60 — funded but not yet available for young adults in need of a place to stay.

“We’ve reached a point where any young person shows up and needs a bed, we can find a bed,” says DYCD Commissioner Bill Chong. “No 16- to 20-year-old has to go to an adult bed in a [Department of Homeless Services] shelter.”

The City Council has pushed the de Blasio administration to expand shelter services and capacity for young people experiencing homelessness, an issue once again in current budget negotiations.

The DYCD shelters provide crucial services to young people during a developmental phase psychologists refer to as “emerging adulthood.” The youth shelters offer life skills training, job coaching and guidance as basic as reminding teens to zip their coats before heading outside.

“I have learned how to actually cook and that is one of the greatest gifts I could have ever received because you need to learn how to cook to be independent,” says Q, a 20-year-old aspiring physician who stays in one of five Lighthouse youth shelters run by the organization CORE Services Group. “It’s great to have a place where I can leave my clothes at and have a place to go to sleep and wake up refreshed and ready.”

Q, who asked not to use her last name, says she has stayed at five other shelters over the past 15 months. None of the adult settings provided the services she needed to succeed, she says.

CORE’s Lighthouse residence are among 495 DYCD-funded Transitional Independent Living beds, which allow people under 21 to stay for up to two years. Another 258 Crisis Service Programs beds enable young people to stay for up to 120 days.

“I never had a connection with my family so being at Lighthouse was home to me,” says Denise, another 20-year-old CORE client. “They cared for me. They wanted to see me do better.”

Despite the increase in beds for young people experiencing homelessness, there is still a significant need for age-appropriate shelter in New York City.

The city’s 2019 point-in-time homeless youth count identified at least 7,374 homeless young people ages 24 and under, with 97 percent staying in shelters, most operated by the Department of Homeless Services.

An untold number of young people experience homelessness without seeking shelter from city agencies like DYCD or DHS. They spend their nights “doubled up” with friends or other associates — crashing on a couch in an apartment where their name does not appear on the lease or exchanging sex for a place to sleep, for example.

A January report on the state of New York City homelessness by Johnson and Council Social Services Committee Chair Stephen Levin calls on the city to add even more short-term crisis service and longer-term TIL beds, which provide a home-like environment for young people.

The two councilmembers have also recommended creating 40 new beds for homeless young people ages 21 to 24, “since there are already reports of waiting lists” for the 60 beds that have not yet opened.” DYCD says the agency is assessing demand as the new beds for 21- to 24-year-olds open.

The report’s ultimate goal is to move young people from shelter to permanent housing. Johnson and Levin both support enabling people in DYCD shelters to access city housing vouchers that pay rent for a year at privately owned apartments.

“We need to take immediate steps to provide appropriate services and supports that enable people to exit homeless shelters more quickly and easily, or avoid them in the first place,” Johnson and Levin write in the report, titled “The Case for Change.”

Access to vouchers is also a major focus for advocates, especially as the Council and mayor engage in budget negotiations.

“They should immediately provide homeless youth relying on DYCD programs access to local rental subsidies like CityFHEPS, including those young people who only access drop-in sites, as well as priority access to NYCHA and Section 8 vouchers,” says Craig Hughes, a social work supervisor at the Urban Justice Center’s Safety Net Project who is writing a doctoral dissertation on the city’s history of youth homelessness.

Hughes says the city should also allow young people who rely on DYCD services to have access to units set-aside for homeless New Yorkers in Housing Preservation and Development-funded apartment buildings.

Chong, the DYCD commissioner, says his agency also supports access to vouchers, though he would not say when that could become a reality.

“That’s one of the recommendations from ‘Turning the Tide,‘“ Chong says, referring to Mayor de Blasio’s plan for addressing homelessness. “We’re working with DHS and [the Human Resources Administration] to figure out eligibility and what’s the best way to execute it.

“I think the city has said we’ll do it but the question is working out all the details,” he adds. “But it’s not within my control.”

DYCD also cannot control the opening of the new beds for young adults between ages 21 and 24, Chong says.

The state Office of Children and Family Services regulates youth shelter space, size and location, which inhibits DYCD’s flexibility to open new sites, Chong says. At the same time, however, the state has not provided new funding to expand programs.

“This is the irony: we’re regulated by the state and they say how we should do it, but they don’t provide any money,” Chong says.

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Date: February 6, 2020
Author: David Brand

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