NYC has plans to break the incarceration cycle. Will it work?

Bill_de_Blasio_11-2-2013

Mayor Bill de Blasio

New York City is once again at the forefront of prison reform. Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced a four-year $130 million public health initiative to “break the revolving door of arrest, incarceration and release that has trapped many troubled individuals in the system for relatively minor, quality-of-life offenses,” The New York Times reported Monday.

The plan hopes to ease imprisonment for minor offenses, in addition to addressing substance abuse and mental health issues of people held in New York City jails, the Times reported. The article cites a report released from the mayor’s task force on criminal justice, but it did not link to the actual report.

Two main aspects of the plan will be to triple the size of pretrial diversion programs and efforts to improve transitions back into society from jail, the article said. Citing experts, however, they “cautioned that nothing of such scale had been tried by a municipality before, and that putting the plan into effect would be difficult,” the piece noted.

The article also highlighted “frequent flyers” to the city’s criminal justice system, people who go in and out of Rikers Island frequently, and noted that mentally ill people in New York City jails has increased by 40 percent recently. “The task force report identified more than 400 people who had been jailed at least 18 times in the last five years, accounting for over 10,000 jail admissions during that period,” the article said. Roughly two-thirds of those people had mental health needs and 99 percent had substance abuse problems.

It’s clear some changes need to be made in how incarceration aims to help people with serious needs. Let’s hope this concrete plan is one step in the right direction that takes hold—and remains funded.

Photo credit: Kevin Case, Bronx, NY [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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