“Supervised Release” programs struggle to keep up

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ALBANY – New York’s underfunded and often overwhelmed “attended release” programs are struggling to reduce recidivism among the people they are supposed to keep out of jail.

Data analyzed by the Times Union suggests that the challenge is greatest when someone is charged with crimes involving property theft: Last year, half of those convicted of non-violent theft charges were released under supervision were re-arrested on new charges; in New York City, the re-arrest rate was over 60 percent.

Cases analyzed included nonviolent crimes and misdemeanors for burglary, robbery, theft and other property crimes. For about a third of those arrested, a judge had also issued a warrant for non-appearance – a rate far higher than for any other type of alleged crime. (The sole intent of bail, under state law, is to ensure a defendant’s return to court.)

In 90 percent of these cases, the person arrested again had either an open or a criminal record, according to the state.

New York City’s supervised release program, funded by the city and previously found successful by researchers, has shown patchy success in recent years. The program — funded by an annual budget of about $116 million — now serves a far larger demographic who would have gone to prison before the state’s bail law changes approved in 2019, but whose cases are no longer eligible for bail her alleged crime. This boom in the number of people smuggled into the program, as prison populations have declined, has created new challenges: the number of cases has more than doubled compared to three years ago.

Outside the city, where trial parole is often administered by parole boards under tight budgets, the state has provided counties with little top-down leadership and limited financial resources to accommodate changes in state law. Judges in these regions tend to rely more heavily on setting bail for those who would be released under supervision in New York City, data shows.

Law enforcement officials and critics of the state’s revamped bail laws say the situation has contributed to a rise in “revolving door” crime. And those released under judge supervision generally have criminal histories, making them statistically more likely to commit new crimes. However, it is worth noting that most arrests are made from people who have been released of their own accord, and the majority of these arrests are for misdemeanors.

The overall impact on supervised release has been higher rates of arrests in New York City, higher rates of pre-trial detention across the state, and general challenges in expanding a program designed to do much of the heavy lifting required by the 2019 bail law changes — though almost no state funds were made available for it.

A similar breakdown was diagnosed in the state’s Raise the Age statute, which was designed to ensure that young offenders were not punished unfairly like adults. Again, the programming services needed for the rehabilitation and reintegration of young offenders into their communities have not been implemented.

In response to the high rates of re-arrest, Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Democrat-led Legislature earlier this year made changes to the bail laws that gave judges more discretion in setting bail or detaining people. But even with these changes, the number of defendants under supervised release programming is expected to remain high.

Aubrey Fox, executive director of New York’s Criminal Justice Agency, said supervised release is a “cost-effective alternative for thousands of people” because “pre-trial detention is unnecessary and unfair in most cases.” The CJA operates the City of Queens program, where it began as a pilot program in 2009, and also maintains data that researchers and analysts use to understand trends in criminal justice.

“There’s a subset of cases where the model isn’t currently working as well as it could,” Fox said. “We need to look closely at the data and adjust the model. But we’ve done it before and I know we can do it again.”

The lack of services in the hinterland

Recently in Albany, a man was charged with stealing shirts from a Macy’s department store. As the charge was non-violent, he was released from custody. He was soon arrested for the same offense. After his second supervised release, he was caught by a security guard trying to steal more shirts. This time the confrontation became physical.

Albany County Assistant District Attorney Joseph P. Brucato said the judge first considered the “least restrictive” means required by law to ensure the defendant’s return to court and released him under supervision. The confrontation with the guard resulted in a bail charge and bail was posted.

Most of Albany County’s supervised release, Brucato said, consists of the parole department attempting to screen people awaiting trial. The program may include phone calls or text check-ins and sometimes face-to-face meetings. Due to the lack of resources, the system relies heavily on electronic surveillance wristbands, which state law states should be used infrequently.

“They’re struggling to keep up with that,” Brucato said, due to an “influx of people under parole supervision and not enough people to really properly supervise them.”

In many cases, Brucato said, drug and alcohol use are part of the alleged criminal activity.

Previously, people may have been arrested for a low-level crime related to their addiction and then received some type of taxpayer-funded treatment in the Albany County jail, Sheriff Craig Apple said.

“We could see the changes when you give addiction counseling to a man who hasn’t had it in 15 years and who keeps coming out of prison,” Apple said.

Given the current lack of state funding to support supervised release and the parallel need to provide addiction or psychiatric services to those outside the criminal justice system, people under pre-trial supervision by state probation officers are left without much support, the sheriff said.

“If you dump everything out there and put it on probation, you can’t keep up with that,” Apple said.

Apple and Brucato say the state should fund the programs outside of New York City at a level commensurate with the increasing role they play.

“It would certainly have to help,” said Brucato. “I couldn’t imagine that it wouldn’t be like that.”

But the current state budget allocated just $25 million to court investigations this year — less than a quarter of what New York City plans to spend. State officials could not say whether any of this first-time money has been allocated.

NYC programming faces challenges

Frank Barretto says people come into the Queens CJA’s supervised release program with at least one of three problems: addiction, undiagnosed or untreated mental illness, or housing instability. The “crimes of poverty,” as some call it, can lead to a cycle of struggle.

Barretto, who directs the CJA’s peer service program, said when a judge agrees to release someone under supervision in New York City, they’re directed to a specific program.

“It’s really about not just taking the charges and the circumstances at face value, but trying to understand the circumstances that led them to our program in the first place,” Barretto said.

The process goes beyond checking in by phone or SMS. It offers face-to-face meetings designed to match the person with the resources. A program provider can help the dismissed person find a job, housing, or medical care. Sometimes people come into the office voluntarily for a meal or are looking for a touch of financial help to buy a shirt and tie for a job interview.

The program staff will communicate with the judge about the level of compliance by the individual. A successful journey through the program could lead to a reduction in the severity of charges or a conviction after a conviction.

The main goals remain the same: make sure the person returns to their court date and avoid recidivism. A no-show bank order is a default; a back seat is worse.

The CJA introduced additional, more intensive peer services over the past year to reach out to those who have been redetained and returned to their program. Fox said program executives are very aware of what the data shows about minor crime-related recidivism and hope to address them.

Before the revision of the state bail law, the program only treated those charged with certain types of crimes, while other high-risk cases were likely to be held on bail. more people went to jail instead of CJA surveillance.

The program’s current screening process tracks whether a suspected crime is eligible for bail, which can determine the graded level of supervised release services the individual would receive.

An initial review of state data suggests that those with bailable felonies released under supervision in New York City have lower recovery rates than those with non-bailable felonies, despite more serious initial suspected crimes. The researchers weren’t sure if this result was directly related to the level of support people received as part of the program.

The Vera Institute, which analyzes the state’s bail laws and maintains a tracker of the city’s prison inmates, supports advanced investigative utilities. Jullian Harris-Calvin, director of the Greater Justice New York program for Vera, said it can help people with a lack of physical and social services, which could increase their likelihood of involvement in the criminal justice system.

“We hope that as our leaders in New York City and Albany continue to hold bail reform talks, they will spend more time on sound policy solutions, such as

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