Criminal Justice Section
Rhonda Tomlinson & Geoffrey Bickford
NYCLA Criminal Justice Section Makes Amendment Recommendations to the NYSBA Special
April 5, 2016
To the Co-Chairs of the New York State Bar Association Special Committee on Re-entry:
The New York County Lawyers Association’s Criminal Justice Section (“CJS”) reviewed the New York State Bar Association’s Special Committee on Re-entry (“Committee”) report issued in January 2016. We commend the Committee for their hard work, thorough report and for bringing much-needed attention to this crucial area of criminal justice. The CJS endorses the report and the recommendations therein, but respectfully recommend that the report be amended to include the following additions, explored further below:
expanding the “Ban the Box” for the college admissions process to include those who have received youthful offender treatment;
a detailed exploration of the importance of family engagement in the reentry process and, in particular, its practice in successful programs like the Harlem Reentry Court;
the use of evidence-based programming in creating effective parole stipulations; and
incorporating the use of case managers to assist in the reentry process.
Ban the Box for College Admissions:
The Committee’s report notes that there should be special attention paid to juveniles under parole supervision. The CJS agrees that the supervision should embrace practices that do not stymie the remainder of the parolee’s life for behavior that occurred as a juvenile. Therefore, the CJS recommends that the Ban the Box for College Admissions recommendation include youthful offender adjudications, not just convictions. An ever-present obstacle to re-entry is the stigma of having a felony conviction. Parolees will often not attempt to gain entrée into parts of society that screen for criminal history. To admit the conviction or adjudication is a reminder of a past bad act and subsequent branding. The question should be banned. A request for this information can thwart a parolee’s decision to seek, and his ability to obtain employment or formal education – two recognized paths to successful re-entry.
Family members should be included in the re-entry process. The Harlem Community Justice Center (“Justice Center”), in cooperation with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services and the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (“DOCCS”), helps parolees returning to the Harlem community make the transition from prison to responsible citizenship. The Justice Center links parolees to a wide range of social services, including drug treatment, transitional employment and vocational services, health care and mental health treatment. Where appropriate, these services are also offered to family members as well to help increase stability in the home. They provide a source of emotional and stabilizing support for parolees who are navigating the reentry process.
DOCCS should reconsider the policy of disallowing multiple individuals in the same family to live together if both are on parole. This typically ends in homelessness for one of the parties or forces one individual to live in a shelter or in three-quarter housing.
The Harlem Re-entry Court actively engages family in the re-entry process. They conduct quarterly “Family Circles” for family members who are preparing for the imminent release of their loved ones. Parents, spouses, children, and caregivers are invited to meet with the parole officers, case managers, faith communities and judges – the spectrum of people who will participate in the re-entry process for their loved ones. Parole officers have an opportunity to discuss the general conditions of release and explain their role as supervisors. The family members share their anxieties, expectations and concerns. This conversation takes place in a neutral setting in the community wherein the parolee will be supervised. Additionally, family members are invited to not only call the parole officer if they perceive a problem with their loved-one; they are invited to participate in the re-entry process by attending the meetings with the judge. They are also offered the services of a family counselor that will come into the home and mediate family problems before they escalate into circumstances that lead to parole revocation or recidivism.
In addition to supporting the family unit, the Harlem Re-entry Court promotes increased accountability for participants by requiring them 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 the supervision plan. The goal is to prevent parolees from re-offending by helping them find jobs and assume familial and personal responsibility. The Harlem Re-entry Court has developed a leadership training program that teaches presentation skills to formerly incarcerated persons. Graduates have spoken at events across the tri-state area.
Evidenced Based Programming:
The parole board and DOCCS set the conditions of release. We recommend they use the COMPAS results to determine the parole stipulations. Often the stipulations are routine, and do not target the individual’s needs that drive re-offending. The primary indicators of recidivism are tied to “thinking.” Yet, there is no mandate that orders an individual to the type of intervention (i.e. cognitive behavioral therapy) that is proven most effective. Additionally, many Level 1 (high risk) individuals are released with no conditions requiring programming. Evidence tells us that to drive down recidivism these individuals need a minimum of 100 hours of programming. DOCCS parole officers can be instrumental in evidenced-based practices such as motivational interviewing, the importance of immediate and proportional consequences, and cognitive behavioral interventions. These are the types of engagement modalities that are most effective in behavior change. The Harlem Parole Re-entry Court is an evidenced-based program that produced a 22% reduction in convictions with high and moderate risk populations with a 60% reduction in felonies and 45% reductions in parole violations. These programs should be expanded throughout New York State.
Case Management Support:
Case managers or social workers who specialize in behavior change can be instrumental in matching parolees to appropriate programming. Case managers have the bandwidth to work closely with the program to identify and address problems before the point of discharge for non- compliance, which can lead to recidivism or revocation of parole. The case managers have independent working relationships with the program providers and can monitor the parolee’s participation. Moreover, the case manager fosters a personal therapeutic relationship with the parolees. This relationship allows the case manager to identify problems in one area of the parolee’s life that may adversely impact his/her compliance with program participation. Case managers or social workers can work hand-in-hand with the parolee to navigate the legal and bureaucratic challenges in managing child support arrears, obtaining identification cards, activating health benefits, applying for housing grants and financial assistance with student loan debt. These challenges are all areas that offer stability to someone who is reconstructing his/her life. While DOCCS parole officers can refer and direct the parolee to assistance with these matters, case managers can walk them through the process, as needed.
Rhonda Tomlinson & Geoffrey Bickford
Co-Chairs, New York County Lawyers Association Criminal Justice Section
- (New York State Bar Association Special Committee on Re-entry, Draft of Final Report, ch VIII at 88 [NOVEMBER 2015])
- (http://www.courtinnovation.org/project/parole-reentry-court [accessed February 1, 2016])
- The COMPAS supervision model was implemented in January 2012. The four supervision levels and the accompanying supervision ratios … and reporting requirements were determined based on a number of risk factors for absconding, risk of any arrest, and risk of violent felony offense arrest.(State of New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Community Supervision Legislative Report 
- (Coming Home to Harlem: A Randomized Controlled Trial of the Harlem Parole Reentry Court by Lama Hassoun Ayoub & Tia Pooler [October 2015])(http://www.courtinnovation.org/research/coming-home-harlem-randomized-controlled-trial-harlem-parole-reentry- court [ accessed March 28, 2016])