Sheriff Craig Apple and Elena Kilcullen, an Albany Law student, talk about the New Beginnings program Jim Franco / Spotlight News
COLONIE — Nobody soars into jail on the wings of victory. Yet, some land behind the Albany County Correctional Facility’s barbed wire again and again.
The reasons for recidivism are varied, and at least somewhat unique to each repeat offender, so Sheriff Craig Apple, along with an Albany Law School student, are starting a new program aimed at breaking that cycle and helping those who get out … stay out.
New Beginnings was rolled out on Jan. 1. It starts with interviewing inmates as they are incarcerated to better understand the underlying issues that led them to jail — outside of the obvious fact of breaking the law — and how to address them upon release.
“Instead of just sitting and doing time behind bars, we decided to be proactive and offer assistance to get these folks on the right path upon release,” Apple said. “By removing as many obstacles as possible that might have a negative impact on them, we hope they will be able to return to society as the responsible citizens we want them to be.”
Once the interview and follow up needs assessment is complete, inmates are given a tablet and appropriate websites to help them break through the traditional barriers of a successful re-entry into society such as employment and educational opportunities, leads on temporary housing, assistance with drug and/or alcohol dependency or mental health issues. Some know they will head back into a domestic violence situation and some veterans face Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and some know they will have to worry about such basic necessities like getting food for themselves and/or their families.
“They can start planning for life upon release while they are still incarcerate and the goal of that is to connect them with the community so they can establish a sustainable life and hopefully never come back,” said Albany Law School student Elena Kilcullen. “Most facilities in the U.S. have a re-entry preparedness program, but inmates start that program once they are released. This is the first one I know of where planning starts from incarceration and re-entry starts from intake because a needs based assessment is competed upon intake for each of the inmate.”
The inmates will share one or two tablets per cell block, and those tablets will only have access to a resource page that provides links to different organizations that address the needs mentioned above. Once that link is clicked, it will not allow any clicks past that website or allow the inmate to randomly browse the internet. So, inmates will not be perusing Facebook or porn sites.
The plan is to modify the resource page accessible via the tablets based on the needs assessments done at intake.
“The ultimate goal is to reduce recidivism in Albany County,” Kilcullen said. “The length of stay at Albany County is 31 days, but what we are seeing is inmates spend 31 days, go out and then will come back and spend another 31 days. What we are doing is giving them the resources they need, and the push they need, so they don’t get out and go back to their old ways.”
Kilcullen said the impacts of incarceration on society is her passion, and while she is getting credit from Albany Law for her work at the jail, she is not getting a paycheck.
There are about 25,000 inmates incarcerated in New York state jails at any given time with another 9,000 in New York City jails. Inmates who serve their time in county jails have generally committed less serious offenses — nonviolent property and drug crimes being the most prevalent — and serve considerably less time than those doing time in the state run prisons.
According to the U.S. National Institute of Justice, which operates under the Department of Justice, one of the more in depth studies of recidivism tracked 404,638 prisoners in 30 states.
It found 70 percent of the inmates were re-arrested within three years, and 77 were re-arrested within five years. The most likely criminals to get re-arrested were property offenders at 82 percent, while 77 percent of drug offenders were re-arrested, 74 percent of public order offenders and 71 percent of offenders who committed a violent crime were re-arrested.