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PR- 072-08
February 28, 2008


Mayor Details City's Discharge Planning Collaboration - A Network of Agencies, Non Profits and Researchers Helping Formerly Incarcerated Get Lives Back on Track

The Following Are Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's Prepared Remarks. Please Check Against Delivery.

"Thank you, Mayor Palmer, and good morning.  It's my pleasure to welcome you all to New York City - home of this year's Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants, or as the man who introduced me likes to call them, the New Jersey Giants. It's also the home of the Knicks but the less said about that the better. 

"I should note that Mayor Palmer - along with Mayors Smith, DeStefano and Bollwage - are all members of our coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. We started with 15 mayors two years ago, and we've grown to more than 275 members from both political parties and from more than 40 states.  Our diversity is proof that the problem of illegal guns transcends the divisive politics of partisanship and special interests.  It's an issue of public safety - pure and simple.

"Mayors understand this because we are the ones who have to deal with the consequences of illegal guns every day.  We are the ones who are called to hospital emergency rooms in the middle of the night.  And we are the ones who must speak at the funerals of fallen police officers. As mayors, we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to prevent these crimes from occurring.  That means tough law enforcement and smart, aggressive policing.  But it also means working to ensure that those who leave our jails and prisons don't come back.

"Here in New York, more than 55,000 men and women are released from our city's jails each year and another 15,000 return to the city from state prison.  All too often, they come back to a world with limited opportunities; one that cares little for who they are or who they may be struggling to become.  For them, the challenges of getting a job, finding a home, and reconnecting with their families can be overwhelming.  So it's perhaps not much of a surprise that two-thirds of them resort to their old criminal ways and end up back behind bars within just three years.

"We have a responsibility to reduce this number and help more of them take full advantage of the second chance they've been given. Unfortunately, as you all know, this is an issue that most politicians have traditionally turned their backs on and continue to neglect. The reasons are clear:  It's not just a complex problem. Politically, it's a 'third rail'; people leaving jails and prisons are not a powerful constituency. But our Administration has never been afraid to take on the toughest challenges.

"That's why we've waged our campaign against illegal guns.  It's why we're reforming a public school system that had failed a generation of New Yorkers.  And it's why we're also working to reduce chronic poverty in our city. We intend to bring this same commitment to helping people leaving our jails and prisons because if the Federal government refuses to lead on this vitally important issue, then cities must set the example.

"This is an issue that we all have a stake in.  Because if someone leaving our jails and prisons decides that the only way he or she can survive is by breaking the law again then everyone's safety is at risk. However, helping these men and women reintegrate into society is much more than simply a public safety imperative.  It's also an opportunity to strike a blow against poverty.

"Several years ago, my Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Linda Gibbs, who was then heading the City's Department of Homeless Services, was struggling with overcrowding in our shelters. At the very same time, my commissioner for the Departments of Correction and Probation, Martin Horn, was struggling to close the revolving door that leads so many men and women right back to the jails from which they were released. The two got together and compared notes. 

"What they discovered was that there was a remarkable overlap between the men and women they were trying to serve.  In fact, some 30 percent of the people in our homeless shelters have also been in our jails.  These men and women make demands on our other social service networks, as well:  They're the same people who depend on our Human Resources Administration for Food Stamps and rental subsidies.  And they're the same people who visit our public hospitals and clinics for drug treatment and emergency care.

"Realizing that no single agency or organization can address these issues effectively, Linda and Marty put together a team of more than 40 City agencies, non-profits, research institutions, and experts called the Discharge Planning Collaboration. Their goal: to fundamentally transform outcomes for people in jails and shelters. Over the past five years, this group has worked hard to break down the barriers between our City's social service and criminal justice agencies - and also between government and the community. The result is a more coordinated, integrated approach to helping people leaving our prisons and jails get their lives back on track.

"Our efforts now actually begin on the day people enter our jails, with some of the most ambitious and innovative reentry programs in the nation, run by our Department of Correction and its community partners. A central part of these efforts is the Rikers Island Discharge Enhancement program, which we launched in 2003, and which Marty spoke about earlier this morning.

"Now, instead of simply opening the cell doors and letting people fend for themselves, we work with them beforehand to assess their needs and create a plan for where they will go and what they will do after they're discharged. If they don't have a plan, then they don't have a chance.  And that's why, on the day of their release, we also provide them with transportation from Rikers Island directly to the housing or community-based provider that's detailed in their plan.  The program's participants then continue to receive case management and support for up to 90 days after their release.

"So far, the program has provided assistance to about 31,000 men and women, arming them with the tools and skills they need to begin leading honest, productive, and fulfilling lives.  And our efforts are clearly paying off:  A study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice discovered that the participants who completed the full program were 30 percent less likely than other participants to return to jail within the year after their release.

"The Rikers Island Discharge Enhancement program is a key part of our strategy to help the formerly incarcerated, but it's not the only one.  We've also increased our efforts to help the most vulnerable people in our city: those who continually bounce between our jails and our homeless shelters.  These men and women are the heaviest consumers of the most expensive City services, which means that helping them is not only our obligation to them but also our obligation to taxpayers.

"That's why, in 2006, we created the Frequent Users Service Enhancement program or FUSE.  It's designed for people who have been in both city jails and shelters at least four times during the past five years.  With support from the Jeht Foundation, our program places participants in Section 8 apartments, and then works to treat their problems with intensive case management services. To date, FUSE has placed more than 100 people in housing, and 90 percent of them have remained there for over a year.

"Another major hurdle that people face after they're released is restarting their government benefits. Last year, Governor Spitzer signed into law a bill, proposed by our Administration, which requires the State to suspend, rather than terminate, Medicaid benefits for people who are incarcerated. This has enormous consequences for people leaving jail and prison, because otherwise it could take up to 90 days to reactivate Medicaid upon release and that might mean having to wait that long to get desperately needed drug treatment or other health services.

"At the same time, with support from the Robin Hood Foundation, we have set up 'single stop' centers in our jails to help people apply for other government benefits while they're incarcerated, so that they receive them immediately upon release. In addition, our Human Resources Administration is working inside our jails, helping people draw up plans to pay off child support, which consequently promotes employment and responsible parenting.

"For some people who are guilty of minor misdemeanors, like petty theft or possession of a small amount of drugs, there may be some sentences more effective than jail.  That's why we created a day custody program as an alternative to incarceration for people who would be in jail for only a very short period of time.  Participants attend the program for three 8-hour days, during which they are assessed by social workers and connected to the community-based services that can help them build solid lives.

"So far, the day-custody program has served more than 1,200 people and those who attended all three days were 17 percent less likely to be re-arrested within five months than those who didn't complete the program.

"Over the course of its work, the Discharge Planning Collaboration has built an incredible network of city agencies, community-based organizations, and researchers who are true experts at providing people leaving our jails with the services and support they need.  We're now connecting New Yorkers to this network through 311 - our 24-hour hotline for all government services and information. When someone who has just been released from jail calls 311 and, for instance, requests help finding a job, our operators will work to address that immediate need, but they also know to ask about a range of other problems that people who were incarcerated might potentially have. In 2007, 311 fielded 3,300 calls asking for jail release services. That's up 40 percent from the previous year.

"Helping the men and women who leave our city's jails has also become a major priority of our Center for Economic Opportunity, which is leading our Administration's anti-poverty initiatives. You all heard from Jeremy Travis earlier.  He's not only a national expert on re-entry but he was also part of my poverty commission, which gave birth to the Center. Over the past year, the Center has moved forward on more than 30 innovative, far-reaching programs, which together have put New York City on the front lines of fighting urban poverty.

"This year, for instance, the Center is partnering with our Department of Education to build more classrooms on Rikers Island and create incentives that make going to school while in jail just as attractive as doing a paid work assignment.  The Center is also helping make sure these young people continue their education after their release, with new literacy and GED programs.

"But by far the most important thing we can to do to help people leaving our jails rebuilds their lives and become productive members of society is to help them find good jobs.  A good job provides more than a paycheck; it affords a sense of pride and self-worth and that creates a domino effect, empowering people to take charge of all aspects of their lives.  Of course, connecting the formerly incarcerated to jobs is a particularly daunting challenge, because people with criminal records are among the hardest-to-employ in the nation. So to really make a difference, we must make sure that these people have the skills that employers want.

"Over the past six years, our City's Department of Small Business Services, led by Rob Walsh, whom you'll hear from later today, has completely revamped the way we help businesses hire New Yorkers by customizing job-training programs specifically to employers' needs. We are now bringing those same elements to many of the re-entry programs we offer men and women leaving our jails.

"But ensuring that they have the right skills will not, by itself, increase job opportunities.  To do that, we must also come to the table with a business proposition that appeals directly to employers' interests.  That means showing them that the city's workforce developers can deliver people who are prepared to be responsible, dependable, and trust-worthy.  And in many cases, it also means offering support and hiring incentives. Our Center for Economic Opportunity has been working on a number of programs that incorporate these strategies - and we'll be announcing them later this year.  Stay tuned.

"Our City's Commission on Human Rights will also continue to go after businesses that deny employment to individuals because of their criminal record, something that's illegal to do in our city.

"We can't guarantee that any of our initiatives will be a complete success but we also can't be afraid to try new ideas and test new solutions when it comes to our most intractable problems. As with everything we do, we will measure our programs' results and make adjustments depending on what works and what doesn't. And if our programs don't work at all, then we will try another approach.  We won't give up.  Our commitment to this issue and the ramifications of this problem, if we turn our backs to it, are simply too great.

"Last summer, while riding the subway downtown, I was approached by a man - big as a bear - who told me he had just gotten out of jail, but was having a tough time finding a job. I could sense his desire and determination to start anew. So I referred him to one of our best providers, the Fortune Society.  Today, that man is housed, employed as a construction worker, and on his way to a better, brighter future.

"I believe that most people who've run afoul of the law are just like him, and eager to make amends and get their lives back on track. But when government budgets get tight, services and support for people leaving jails and prisons are often the first things to get cut. Right now, all of us are facing tough budgets - but we can't let that be an excuse for failing in our responsibility.  We can't let a life of crime become the default option.

"Like many cities across the nation, New York has made incredible gains in the fight against crime over the past decade. We've driven crime down more than 20 percent since 2001 and last year, we experienced fewer than 500 murders - the fewest number of homicides since the City started keeping track in the 1960s. We attribute much of our success to an increased use of crime data to focus our resources on the areas where criminal activity is most prevalent. But there's more we can do to reduce crime, and we can take the next big step by linking enforcement with investment -investment in people.

"Helping people leaving our jails and prisons rebuild their lives is not just an investment in safer neighborhoods. It's an investment in good parenting, in healthier families, in a thriving economy and, above all, in stronger cities.  That's an investment we can't afford not to make.  Thank you, again, for having me this morning, and I hope you enjoy the rest of this conference.


Stu Loeser/Dawn Walker   (212) 788-2958

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