Mayor Adams budget cuts include cuts to re-entry classes and services at Rikers

May 18, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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In a move that has left many non-profit organizations and advocates for the incarcerated blindsided, Mayor Eric Adams has decided to eliminate a series of programs at Rikers Island in a bid to save $17 million in the upcoming fiscal year’s budget.

The programs, which included job training, housing assistance, drug abuse prevention, and family reintegration services, were designed to help detainees transition back into society after their release. The last day of these classes, which covered a range of topics from carpentry and plumbing skills to financial literacy and anger management, will be on June 30.

The cutbacks, which represent a mere 1.4% of the Department of Correction’s $1.2 billion budget, were part of a broader directive from Mayor Adams to reduce city agency spending by 4%. They will result in dozens of full-time employees, including many who were previously incarcerated themselves, losing their jobs.

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The decision to cut these programs has sparked criticism from organizations such as the Fortune Society, which was one of the five non-profit agencies informed that their contracts were being prematurely terminated. Ronald Day, the Vice President of programs at the Fortune Society, said that the Department of Correction (DOC) would not be able to deliver the same quality of services that the agencies have been providing for years.

“These include evidence-based interventions that promote accountability and healing and workforce training that promotes future stability upon release – all of which makes everyone held in and at work in our jails safer, and our communities stronger,” said Ronald Day, Vice President of Programs and Research at The Fortune Society.

“In an atmosphere of dysfunction and danger, our staff forge transformative connections with the people in our jails, based on decades of organizational experience and our promise of a lifetime commitment to continued service. Eliminating these programs that our culturally competent, trained, and dedicated staff provide every day will leave a gap that simply cannot be filled by DOC. We urge the Administration to reconsider this attempt to balance a budget at the expense of public safety and community wellbeing.”

While the DOC claims that it will assume the responsibilities previously carried out by the contracted providers, critics argue that the elimination of these services will have a devastating impact on the detainees and increase the likelihood of recidivism. This comes as a particularly harsh blow as Mayor Adams’ administration frequently attributes crime increases to repeat offenders.

The cancellation of these programs not only affects those incarcerated but also contributes to broader societal challenges. Thousands of detainees who have been partaking in these classes will be left without the crucial assistance and support they need to reintegrate into society successfully.

The Osborne Association, another organization with a canceled contract, highlighted the importance of these programs as a lifeline for detainees. These programs allowed participants to engage in deep and meaningful conversations about their lives and provided crucial links to the outside world upon their release.

The DOC countered that attendance at these voluntary 90-minute classes was only around 30%, but critics suggest that this number does not fully reflect the value and impact of the programs.

“Reentry programs have been proven to ease the particularly delicate transition of individuals leaving jail and returning to the community, including by preventing repeated contact with the criminal legal system and improving individuals’ health and employment outcomes,” said Megan French-Marcelin, Legal Action Center’s Sr. Director of NYS Policy.

“For New Yorkers with mental health and substance use issues, and/or unstable housing, these programs are often the only lifeline people have. Decreasing program funding threatens countless Black and brown lives amid rising rates of fatal overdose, untreated mental illness, and homelessness.”

The abrupt termination of these programs raises concerns about the capacity of the DOC to fill the vacuum left by these non-profit organizations and the potential long-term costs of increased recidivism rates and emergency service utilization. The NY ATI/Reentry Coalition has voiced its concerns about the feasibility of DOC effectively implementing such programs without the support of experienced non-profit organizations.

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