By Bill Parry
Mayor Bill de Blasio went to The Fortune Society headquarters in Long Island City Wednesday to announce a new initiative that will provide re-entry services to every person incarcerated person by the end of the year. The Jails to Jobs program will help connect them with jobs and opportunities outside of jail, as well as five hours of programming per day during their stay to address vocational, educational and therapeutic needs.
“Everyone deserves a second chance,” de Blasio said. “We’re working to break the cycle of returning to jail for those in city custody by making sure they have opportunities to learn and grow while in jail, and connecting them with the re-entry services to support a pathway to stability when they leave.”
In the three years since the mayor took office, the jail population has decreased 18 percent, from an average population of 11,478 in December 2013 to an average of 9,362 this month. The population on Rikers Island has fallen 23 percent, a drop largely driven by intentional efforts to reduce the number of people who are sent to jail and how long they spend there.
“This sharp decline offers clear and compelling evidence that our law enforcement initiatives continue to have a profound impact in making Queens County and our city one of the safest places in the nation,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.
State Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) said the statistic proves the mayor and his Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte are proving it is possible to reduce the jail population while overseeing a decrease in violent crime. But City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) said the mayor can do even better.
“New York City already has within its power the ability to reduce the numbers on inmates sitting on Rikers Island because they cannot make small amounts of bail, and to mitigate the draconian effect of New York State’s failure to ‘Raise the Age’ of criminal culpability for 16- and 17-year-olds,” Lancman said. “I urge the mayor to immediately implement an online bail payment system, as he promised, expand the BEX program, support my bill to give judges defendants’ financial information before bail decisions are set, and bolster the adolescent diversion program and Project Reset.”
The BEX Program provides families of defendants with bail under $3,500 and a adds a few additional hours for them to post bail. Project Reset, a program underway in Manhattan, is a collaboration between the NYPD and the Center for Court Innovation which exempts 16- and 17-year-olds charged with first-time, low-level, non-violent misdemeanor offenses from being prosecuted.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr