Gotham Gazette Mon, 22 Apr 2019 23:20:12 +0000 en-gb (Webmaster) De Blasio ‘Jails to Jobs’ Program Launches Rikers jails to jobs

On Rikers Island (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Judith is a newly-minted head chef. She had previously been a line cook, and was nervous about interviewing for a job running her own kitchen, but decided to take the plunge after some convincing. When it came time to speak to the hiring manager, Judith, in her own self-assessment, “killed it.”

Before Judith was head chef, before she was a line cook, before she knew kitchen skills, she was incarcerated. But it was her time in “Rosie,” the Rose M. Singer women’s jail on Rikers Island, that placed her on her trajectory to becoming a chef.

In April 2017, four months before her release from Rikers, Judith began participating in the workforce development programming offered onsite by the Osborne Association, a New York-based nonprofit that provides social services for the currently and formerly incarcerated. Osborne offers a number of professional education workshops and certification programs on Rikers, and Judith began training intensely with the group.

“I took advantage of...everything I could get my hands on,” she told Gotham Gazette, and ended up leaving Rikers with certificates in food handling, culinary arts, building maintenance, and job safety.

Upon her release, Osborne’s housing staff helped her secure a home, and its employment team reviewed her resume, coached her on interview skills, organized her paperwork, and placed her in an apprenticeship in a kitchen. When the apprenticeship ended, Osborne helped Judith find permanent employment and supported her emotionally as she progressed professionally.

“They kept encouraging me that it’d be okay, that I need to keep pushing forward. It wouldn’t have happened without them,” she said.

The Osborne Association is one of several organizations in New York City providing services to those incarcerated in city jails, both during their confinement and after their release. Most have been operating for decades — Osborne was founded in 1933, and its peer group, the Fortune Society, has operated since 1967 — and receive city funding. But it’s only been within the past year that the city government has mobilized the Osborne Association, the Fortune Society, and six other incarceration-services organizations — Samaritan Daytop Village, Fedcap, Housing Works, Friends of Island Academy, the Women’s Prison Association, and the Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College — to provide short-term transitional employment to every individual leaving a city jail after serving a sentence.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that lofty goal, which he promised to actualize through the new “Jails to Jobs Initiative,” in March 2017. Jails to Jobs is now a component of the mayor’s ten-year plan to shutter the city jails on Rikers Island by reducing the jail population, combating recidivism, and opening or expanding modern borough-based facilities. The mayor’s announcement was scant on details on the program, simply promising that “everyone leaving city jails after serving a sentence will be offered paid, short-term transitional employment to help with securing a long-term job.”

Employment after incarceration has been shown to reduce recidivism by 22%, and de Blasio says that the city needs to reduce its jail population to 5,000 — almost a 50% drop from figures at the time of his announcement — in order to make feasible the closure of Rikers. In 2017, the average total population of those incarcerated on Rikers or the city’s other jail facilities stood at 9,148. On Monday, July 2, the total city jail population was 8,208, including 6,138 on Rikers, down from 9,206 one year prior.

Roughly 8,500 people leave city jails each year after serving a sentence (many more are incarcerated after an arrest but do not necessarily serve a sentence in a city or any jail or prison). It is not clear what capacity the city needs to ensure through provider agencies to make sure that each of those individuals has access to a “paid, short-term” job. The program is in its infancy. There is no set duration for “short-term,” a mayor’s office spokesperson said, indicating that it depends on the needs of the client and the service-provider.

Employment is, by most empirical measures, both crucial to successful post-incarceration reentry and disproportionately difficult to attain for the formerly incarcerated. In 2017, 80% of those who served a sentence in a New York City jail had been unemployed at the time of their arraignment, and the National Institute of Justice estimates that between 60 and 75 percent of formerly-incarcerated individuals are jobless up to a year after their release.

This joblessness does not seem to be for lack of effort. A survey conducted by the Urban Institute reported that 79% of formerly-incarcerated individuals sought employment once out of jail, but data show that justice-involved individuals consistently face legal, perceptive, and racialized barriers to employment. More than 80% of employers in the United States perform criminal background checks on potential employees, and a government-published study conducted in New York City found that a criminal record reduces the likelihood of a job callback by almost 50%.

Still, white justice-involved applicants were twice as likely to hear back from a potential employer than black justice-involved applicants were. In a city that jails black and Latino people almost exclusively, this racial disparity has far-reaching effects.

Guaranteed employment for the formerly-incarcerated, then, would radically alter the conditions of thousands of New Yorkers leaving a city jail, and Jails to Jobs seems to be the first initiative of its kind in the United States. It may prove to be a massively complex undertaking.

The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) is spearheading the initiative in collaboration with eight criminal justice nonprofits. “The bulk of the initiative,” said Patrick Gallahue, MOCJ’s senior press director, “includes paid transitional employment and supportive services in the community.”

The city works with groups that provide an array of services. For instance, the Friends of Island Academy holistically focuses on the needs of formerly-incarcerated youths while the Women’s Prison Association offers gender-specific services, and Housing Works helps the formerly-incarcerated secure stable housing, a well-documented struggle for justice-involved individuals.

Several leaders of the city’s partner organizations spoke to Gotham Gazette of Jails to Jobs’ collaborative nature, whereby affiliated groups freely refer individuals to other organizations that may be better suited to their needs. For instance, if a Brooklyn resident sought assistance from the Fortune Society, based in Long Island City, Queens, staff there said they might refer them to the Osborne Association, which runs a center in Brooklyn Heights.

The Jails to Jobs initiative officially commenced on January 1 of this year, but most organizations began providing services under the program’s auspices in the spring, meaning the program has only recently launched in earnest.

The network of groups finding employment for formerly-incarcerated people is labyrinthine, and Jails to Jobs runs slightly differently between organizations. When MOCJ solicited programming proposals for Jails to Jobs, it wrote that the city would “strongly favor proposals that demonstrate partnerships through subcontracting or formal cost-sharing arrangements.” As a result, most Jails to Jobs participants are placed into internships through subsidiary organizations.

As of mid-June, the Osborne Association had employed 30 formerly-incarcerated individuals via three different, smaller groups — the Center for Employment Opportunity, Exponent, and the Hope Program — though it hopes to reach 150 people by the end of this year and 200 by the next.

The Center for Employment Opportunity primarily provides day labor cleanup crews and employs Jails to Jobs participants for four to five hours a day at $13 an hour. Exponent, a substance-use program, provides services and certifies in counseling. Programs have not yet begun at the Hope Program.

The Fortune Society, for its part, hopes to place 300 individuals in employment by the end of the year, and had enrolled 128 as of mid-June, 2018. That enrollment figure, as with all similar statistics from service providers, includes more than just the individuals who are currently employed in a paid, temporary internship — Jails to Jobs also funds hard skills training, including culinary, construction, and CDL driving certification.

“It’s going to look different for each person,” said Katharine Samberg, the Fortune Society’s Manager of Trainings and Transitional Programs. “Some don’t have job experience, and the transitional work program is for people who need to get a footing and realize they can be a beneficial employee.”

Experiences vary along lines of gender, as well. In 2015, women comprised roughly 6% of the city jail population, and their experiences before, during, and after incarceration differ from those of men, said Nyasha Rivera, who oversees the Jails to Jobs program at the Women’s Prison Association.

“We are not using tools that were created for men or are gender-neutral,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette. Since they are often the primary caregivers of children, meaning they must live in bigger homes, be nearer to sources of support, and are often more undesirable to landlords, women typically face less housing stability post-release than men do, which depresses their ability to find employment. And gender-specific “trauma that women experience prior to incarceration, during incarceration, and in the reentry process...serves as a barrier,” Rivera said.

The Women’s Prison Association offers, through various partnerships, employment tracks in culinary arts, building maintenance, and front-of-house restaurant work. As part of Jails to Jobs, the Association offers eight paid weeks of job training followed by a two-week paid internship, a different program than those run by other service providers.

Still, explained Jim Hollywood of Daytop Samaritan Village, “all Jails to Jobs contracts across the city have a similar construction to the programs.” Job training services begun during incarceration place individuals in contact with service providers, who continue employment support after release, which comes, in part, in the form of a city-subsidized temporary internship.

MOCJ allocated almost $9 million -- $8,885,492 -- to the Jails to Jobs program in its first year, which it’s spent mainly in the form of grants to service providers. That money pays for the minimum wage salaries of program participants for up to 21 hours a week, assuaging, the hope is, any sense among employers that to employ a formerly-incarcerated person is to undertake a risk.

Employers can choose to supplement the schedules and salaries of their formerly-incarcerated employees beyond what the city guarantees. Such is the case of Alexandra, who spent 18 months on Rikers Island and a little over a year in state prisons. She connected with the Fortune Society while on Rikers through taking its anger management, family safety, and job training workshops. Upon release, Alexandra entered into an internship at a home health services facility that employs her for over 40 hours a week, paying the half of her full-time salary that the city, through the Fortune Society, does not cover.

Like Judith, Alexandra (Gotham Gazette agreed to withhold last names) credits her connection with an incarceration-services group for her stable re-entry process. Immediately following her release from the Taconic State Prison, where she was sent after time on Rikers, staff at the Fortune Society helped Alexandra open a Medicaid account, apply for food stamps, and begin learning skills necessary for re-integration. She called it a “one-stop shop” in an interview with Gotham Gazette, and is now poised to be hired full-time as a coordinator at the home health services facility once her internship ends this month.

It is difficult to ascertain whether the successes of Judith and Alexandra are representative of most participants’ experiences with Jails to Jobs; most organizations only began running the program two or three months ago. But each service provider, as per the terms of MOCJ’s solicitation for proposals, already has extensive experience in reentry programming in New York City.

Data points for the program are tricky to come by. For example, Gallahue, the MOCJ press director, told Gotham Gazette that the city does “not have a precise number” regarding the expected demand for jobs among recently-released individuals. Though at this time it is known that approximately 8,500 people leave city jails after serving a sentence each year, MOCJ could not say how many individuals who had served a sentence could be expected to be looking for a job at any given time.

No organization told Gotham Gazette of having to turn away an individual for lack of space in an employment program; if anything, most are eager to grow. But, in the words of City Council Member Rory Lancman, who chairs the Committee on the Justice System, without a figure from the city, it is nearly impossible to assure that “every person serving a city sentence would have access to this job training, job placement’s incumbent on the city to explain how it’s going to meet its commitment of serving every person serving a city sentence.”

Anecdotally, a minority of those released from city jails, even those who’d been involved with a service provider while incarcerated, seek post-release services. Judith said that she is the only one of her roughly 20 peers who’d been enrolled in Osborne’s classes on Rikers to seek out the organization’s help once off the island.

Her two closest friends from Rosie “have every excuse [to not go to Osborne]...For one, it’s easier for her to sell drugs on the street, and, for the other one, it’s her boyfriend.”

Improved outreach would help, she said — for some, organizations should “take them by the hand.”

The employment services Jails to Jobs has added resources to have changed Judith’s life, she said.

“I’m so grateful to that program. They did a wonder job on me. A wonder job.”

by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

De Blasio ‘Jails to Jobs’ Program Launches Thu, 05 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
High Rates of Head Trauma in New York City Jails Raise Public Health, Recidivism Concerns Rikers Island guards

(photo via The Mayor's Office)

When a head injury occurs in any of New York City’s 12 jails, no one bats an eye, according to Jonathan Stenger. “It’s accepted,” said Stenger, who was formerly incarcerated on Rikers Island and now works with inmates in the city’s jails through the Osborne Association. “People are just used to it.”

Quantifying these incidents for the first time, a new study finds that the rate of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) sustained by inmates in New York City jails is more than 60 times higher than in surrounding communities. A head injury is considered a TBI if it causes the person to lose consciousness or to become confused and dazed. Published in the August issue of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, the study also provides estimates for the 5,000-plus jails and prisons across the country; the five-person research team concluded that there are some 600,000 incidents of head trauma annually, close to 90,000 of which are TBIs.

The new findings could help researchers better understand recidivism and the long-term mental health issues facing many individuals who are spending or have spent time in jail, since these injuries can lead to degenerative brain diseases. They also raise questions about the societal costs of injuries incurred in jails, about officer training, and about the need for better injury and health recording systems in jails, which aren’t required to maintain such data.

“Brain injuries are a chronic health condition that shorten and diminish quality of life,” said Wayne Gordon, a rehabilitation medicine professor at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “We need to be looking at how to make jails safer for these individuals, or it will continue to have significant public health implications.”

During a traumatic brain injury, the brain—which has a consistency similar to gelatin or firm tofu—shakes and jiggles within the skull. No matter where the head is hit during a severe injury, the gelatinous brain collides with and scratches against the front part of the skull that has bony ridges, damaging tissue. If there’s enough movement, tissues connecting the mid-brain and frontal lobe move at different speeds, harming connections from one area to the other.

“The frontal area is what makes us most distinctly human,” says John Corrigan, director of the Ohio Valley Center for Brain Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation. “Relative to the weight of the brain—we have way more frontal lobe than any species.”

This area primarily regulates impulse control, delayed gratification, and the ability to understand abstract and nuanced concepts. Following a TBI, people commonly report an inability to concentrate and high levels of fatigue, among a host of other symptoms that have implications for recidivism rates and employment.   

Repeated brain trauma can deteriorate brain tissue to the point where it loses some function—a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Symptoms of the disease, which has drawn public attention because of its impact on players in the National Football League, include aggression, depression, confusion, suicidal tendencies, and progressive dementia. The National Institutes of Health has taken the lead on conducting CTE research, but has mainly studied the disease in football players and boxers.

Prisoners have not been studied and one of the main reasons, Corrigan said, is a lack of data. Jail and prison facilities across the country aren’t required to keep standardized injury logs, and many facilities haven’t implemented electronic medical records. New York City was among the first to do so, and is one of a handful nationwide that uses records as a surveillance tool to monitor head injuries.

The research team behind the new study jumped on the opportunity in 2012 when the city announced it would use electronic health records to monitor medical care in its jails. They tweaked the recording system so physicians working with inmates would be prompted to ask more specific questions if their patient had a head injury—including detailed descriptions of the immediate effects, and how the injury happened.

The researchers looked at 42 months of records of nearly 275,000 New York City inmates, and observed that, over this period of time, nearly 14 percent of inmates suffered a traumatic brain injury. After examining emergency room and clinical records across New York City, the researchers calculated that the rate of TBI sustained in jails over the three-and-a-half-year study period was about 63 times greater than in community settings. Experts said there’s no reason to believe much has changed since the study period ended.

A possible limitation of the study, said lead author and physician Anne Siegler, is that someone who experienced two traumatic brain injuries could have been counted as two individuals. The researchers were unable to identify unique incidents in the emergency room data due to privacy reasons, and therefore chose to tally each head injury as one.

The study was able to identify causes. The team found that inmate-on-inmate fighting and the use of force by an occupational officer were the greatest sources of head injuries: 42 percent (5,966) and 23 percent (1,776), respectively. Other causes included self-injury, slipping and falling, and attacks.

As they began to collect data, the researchers noticed how frequent head injuries were, which echoed their anecdotal experience. Homer Venters, an author of the study and former chief medical officer of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, described hundreds of visits he had made to city jails during his two-year tenure that involved treating patients who had suffered head injuries. Often, Venters recalled, a light would go on for an inmate he was treating when he began reciting the cognitive issues associated with TBI.

“It runs counter to the narrative they get everywhere else, which is that they’re lazy, they’re dumb, or there’s a problem in their will or moral character,” said Venters, who is now the director of programs at Physicians for Human Rights.

One patient Venters worked with said he used to read hundreds of pages a day before a correctional officer injured him; afterward, he had trouble reading more than a page or two in one sitting. He told Venters he felt tired and unable to follow the text.

Experts in the field say the new findings are alarming, particularly when extrapolated to the national level. The 600,000 or so head injuries that the researchers estimate occur in jails nationwide would amount to an additional 40 percent of head injuries if included in data collected by U.S. public health systems, said Venters. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 2.1 million individuals suffer TBIs annually.

More accurate numbers could be found with better record-keeping in jails, Venters said, but no one seems eager to quantify the scale. There is a dearth of data on the methods cities use to record injuries in jails or whether steps are being taken to implement electronic health records. “Jails and prisons don’t really want to know rates of injuries,” said Venters. The federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) office of public affairs said the bureau does not monitor these injuries “due to the fact the cause of inmate head injuries in the BOP may vary.”

Experts say that the new findings suggest that only better record keeping will make fully clear the extent of the injuries on a national scale, and that training programs for re-entry should include discussions of TBI and its implications. Another study published in February 2017 found that former inmates in Indiana with TBI were more likely to return to jail than former prisoners without TBI.

Corrigan described the importance of arming re-entry workers with strategies to effectively communicate and create treatment plans with this subset of the formerly incarcerated population. If someone is displaying a short attention span and has a history of TBIs, slowing down when explaining something, recapping points and asking them to summarize major points can help them process information.

Members of the team said that training prison officers is critical as well. When Venters and his colleagues noticed the frequency of head injuries, they reached out to correctional officer training academies, delivering a handful of lectures about how to identify when incarcerated individuals may be showing signs of head injury. But the future of these or similar training efforts is not clear. Following multiple requests for interviews about guard training, a public relations officer at the Department of Corrections sent an email with a statement attributed to spokesperson Peter Thorne: “The Department cares deeply about the health and well-being of all inmates and is working closely with our city’s correctional health services provider to ensure people in our custody are provided with quality health care.”

Stenger said he hasn’t noticed any changes in the prevalence of head injury in the people he has worked with over the last few years. He described the jails as still feeling “unsafe.” Venters seems to agree:

“The way the jail system confers new health risks onto the people that pass through it is profound.”

by Maya Miller for Gotham Gazette
The author is a freelance journalist currently earning an M.A. in health and science journalism at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.

High Rates of Head Trauma in New York City Jails Raise Public Health, Recidivism Concerns Tue, 02 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000