Innovation Through Open Doors


Are IAPs (Individual Achievement Plan) the solution?  We must remember that IPAs are individualized and transparent probation contracts with specific goals and conditions that match the interests, needs and challenges of each probation client. Is self-identification through de-criminalization even possible today?  The imprisonment of a whole race is what NYC is facing and it is a public policy issue. On the one hand, reducing disparities among young Black and Latino men who become involved with the criminal justice system is a continuing problem in NYC.  On the other hand, the problem with policy is one, which builds along the criminal justice continuum of arrest through parole rather than the result of the actions of any one single agency. Therefore, in order for NYC to combat unwarranted disparity, strategies need to be required to tackle the problem at each stage of the criminal justice system. And each component of the system needs to require unique strategies like Community Education Pathways depending on the degree of the disparity and the specific populations affected.

Started in 2011, we saw how for the first time, the City of New York pay non-profit providers based on their success in helping offenders get jobs, earn GED certificates and stay sober, instead of the former metric of reporting to appointments. This program aimed to reducing even further the city's unprecedented drop in incarcerations:  since 2001 the city's incarceration rate has been reduced by 32 percent, even as the rest of the country increased by five percent. [1]The Individualized Correction Achievement Network, referred to as I-CAN, launched in four facilities - the Otis Bantam Correction Center, the Anna M. Kross Center, the Eric M. Taylor Center, and the Rose M. Singer Center - thus expanding to the entire jail system by year's end. By incorporating national best practices and evidence-based solutions into a program designed to reduce recidivism, the Correction Department will continue to be able to marshal its reentry resources towards achieving better results. However, the Mayor has made it clear that at the Otis Bantam Correction Center on Rikers Island is where groundbreaking efforts to further reduce recidivism in New York City will be made.  In attempting to raise the bar for cities across the country, the Individualized Correction Achievement Network will continue to both target resources toward the high-risk inmates that can benefit most from in-jail programming and incentivize the work of contractors to achieve the outcomes we all want to see. But will they be able to a success for inmates that find their way to NYC from let’s say Alabama or Texas?

We must recall that this was the first jail-based re-entry program model to combine best practices with a nationally validated, evidence-based assessment tool and pay-for-success program delivery.  By providing re-entry services designed to reduce future offenses in the local jail, the City is attempting to provide a justice model for the nation through policy that assists in this process rather than just allowing for change.  Still, this a program that will continue to complement the Mayor's Young Men's Initiative and a city’s commitment to reducing the disparities impeding the advancement of young black and Latino and men. For too long, leaving jail has been followed by returning to jail and providing New Yorkers with measurable tools for success, such as access to education, is critical to ending that vicious cycle.

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NYC is targeting the inmates who are most likely to be rearrested early in their incarceration, for discharge planning and preparation and this is very real on the revolving circle I like to call probationary perpetuity. It's critical therefore that NYC use as much of their time in detention to turn them around and stop them from coming back to jail.  Offering a fresh approach to tackling longstanding problems is going to make a measurable difference.  

I believe that we need to take policy and continue using an innovative data analysis tool called the Service Priority Level Instrument, which was developed by DOC and the nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice, the Individualized Correction Achievement Network (I-CAN) as this will continue to look at standard administrative data associated with each inmate when he or she comes into custody, for example, age, charges, and prior record to identify those who both present a high risk of recidivism and are also likely to be in custody long enough to profit from services (at least 20 days). This ultimately allows DOC to channel re-entry services where they will be most effective but it also returns benefits to the highest risk recidivists.

It is our nation currently telling that re-entry services work best for high-risk offenders and are ineffective or counterproductive when applied to low- and moderate-risk inmates.  The high-risk population (adults, 19 and older) currently has a one-year recidivism rate of 69 percent (compared to the 42 percent rate for the adult inmate population overall).[2] The goal of the I-CAN program is to reduce that rate by 10% in the first year. 


An example of policy through strong commitments is in the New York City Department of Correction has contracted with two organizations that have strong histories of providing services to inmates in NYC jails: the Fortune Society and the Osborne Association.  For each I-CAN participant, DOC will create a menu of billable items from which the contracted program provider may select consistent with the inmate's assessed needs and risks. Billable milestones include: acquiring a valid state ID, earning a GED, preparation of a resume, job placement and job retention at monthly intervals, completion of culinary arts certification programs and achieving abstinence from substance use at monthly intervals.  DOC will reimburse providers for the achievement of these milestones while participants are in jail and up to six months after the inmates have left DOC custody and continue to receive services in the community.

NYC’s experience and the experience of re-entry providers in jails and prisons across the country have shown how important it is to have a seamless and supportive transition from incarceration to needed services in the community. Using culturally competent staff to bring the interventions that work to the incarcerated men and women who are most likely to benefit is the right next step in reducing crime and creating hope for people caught up in the criminal justice system.  For example, The Fortune Society's mission is to support successful reentry from prison and promote alternatives to incarceration, thus strengthening the fabric of our communities.

By providing these services to the targeted group of incarcerated individuals, NYC will show that it is never too early to intervene to help people make better choices moving forward. In addition, the Osborne Association has an 80-year history of working with currently and formerly incarcerated men, women, and children and provides a broad range of treatment, education, and vocational services to more than 7,000 people each year in New York State.


Since 2001, major felony crime in the city fell by 32 percent, a sharper decline than the rest of the nation, while the city's incarceration rate also plummeted by 32 percent.[3]  In contrast, incarceration rates nationally actually increased by five percent.  With a staff of approximately 8,850 uniformed officers and 1,700 civilian staff, the New York City Department of Correction provides care and custody for approximately 12,000 inmates (average daily population) in ten jails on Rikers Island and additional facilities in the boroughs of New York City.  We must realize that more than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. But more so for Black males in their thirties, 1 in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the "war on drugs," in which two-thirds of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color.  As Congress prepares spending bills for the next year, The Sentencing Project has called on the panel overseeing justice funding to invest in our nation's young people by providing robust funding for juvenile justice and programs to prevent crime. The importance of such funding is that it would help protect children from adult jails, provide judges with options for age-appropriate sanctions, address the needs of girls, and reduce racial disparities in juvenile justice.


As a matter of target and area, Neighborhood Opportunity Network (NEON) has launched South Bronx’s NeON to serving young adults and adolescents in the surrounding community.  This is a policy success I feel because NeON is a central element of Mayor Bloomberg’s Young Men’s Initiative, which is helping black and Latino youth achieve their goals. NeON offices are located close to where clients live.  NeON offices are located close to where clients live.  NeON staff share office space with community-based organizations that provide the kinds of services and opportunities clients need.  NeON has been joining local networks of businesses, community-based organizations, residents and community leaders. NeON’s staff are specially trained and culturally competent.  The positive changes for youth have come through community outreach and positive support. 

Supporting Growth and Development via Transformative Mentoring[4] means that key among the programs featured in the NeON’s will be Transformative Mentoring. Transformative Mentoring features curriculum-based group mentoring intervention that helps justice-involved young adults transform the attitudes and behaviors that have led to criminal activity. It serves young people whose needs go far beyond the traditional mentoring approach of companionship, confidence building and minor academic, social or career guidance.  For instance, take the core components of the Arches transformative mentoring intervention include a group process where the group members become an important support system for each other; a curriculum has now become based on cognitive behavioral principles delivered by culturally appropriate mentors; case management; 24/7 crisis intervention; and incorporation of positive youth development values, principles and practices. This is a focus that is needed; a focus that is on the achievement of developmental outcomes—such as the ability to seek help in a crisis, get along with others, show up on time, and handle a job interview—that can prepare a person for education, employment and civic participation.

Where the policy becomes more complex is in each mentoring, group mentors willing to deliver an interactive, dynamic curriculum to a group of young adults on a weekly basis but still with enhancement of incentives in long-term pro-social thinking.  Sure, the curriculum is based on cognitive behavioral principles, with a focus on changing antisocial attitudes and feelings as well as skills training in self-control and self-management however, the mentors serve as ―credible messengers only in theory. They will be culturally appropriate, responsive to the needs of individuals, and may have had personal experience with the justice system. In addition to facilitating the group sessions, mentors will be available 24/7 for crisis intervention.

There are many clear winners in preventing recidivism such as Creative Arts Workshop for Kids (CAW) has been helping youth aged 4-21 in Northern Manhattan for 26 years, using the arts to teach job and development skills. CAW, as a program is a way to help break down barriers that often block the young men of this city.  There are so many different barriers that they have to deal with, that they need that sense of optimism. It is a network of community groups working in partnership with government and the judicial system makes a perfect amount of sense.  In one of the CAW programs, youth paint huge murals on the side of buildings. The artists are able to showcase their work to their friends and family, bringing a sense of pride in doing something positive, something they may not have felt before. We learn that in every instance here there is a greater degree of confidence. In addition the youth feel more appreciated and earn respect the right way.

Bloomberg believes that in the end, people want recognition and respect. When they don’t get it, they start behaving in sometimes self-destructive ways.  While Bloomberg’s Young Men’s Initiative is still in its infancy, and it is too early to tell if it will help break the cycle of violence that has plagued some young African-American and Latino males in this city.  NY State congress believe that it is a step in the right direction, but I am sure there are going to be more steps that need to be taken, as the probations commissioner said.  These young people out here need people to turn to, to talk with, and they need positive role models and encouragement in doing positive things on a day-to-day basis.


In conclusion, while the short-term outcomes from the transformative mentoring intervention include behavioral changes such as increased well-being, decreased substance abuse and violent behaviors, and decreased self-harm as well as attitudinal changes including better personal and family relationships, increased self-esteem, self-efficacy and social competence, and improved skills for avoiding risky behaviors and engaging in positive behaviors longer-term outcomes offer us with more to be desired. Longer-term outcomes that include advances in education, employment and self-sufficient living are to be continued. Outcomes need to be assessed through self-report measures, applied skills tests, and reports of mentors and probation staff. DOP needs to also track recidivism as measured by new arrests, arrests for felonies, arrests for violent felonies, criminal convictions and technical violations of probation. Young Adult Justice Scholars, which is an education-based program serving court involved young adults living in communities with a high level of need of services needs to be continued. The Justice Scholars program is designed to focus on educational gains, with multiple educational tracks for participants at various levels, including options for young adults in high school, working towards a GED, needing basic education classes or ready for a post-secondary track.  The program also uses tutoring services to supplement educational programming. All Justice Scholars participants will also engage in career exploration services that will introduce potential career fields and encourage participants to establish individual goals and plans. Justice Scholars is a minimum six-month program with a minimum six-month follow-up period. The Young Adult Justice Community program encourages court-involved young adult New Yorkers’ successful attachment to education, work and community engagement; reductions in crime and recidivism; and building of stronger, safer, more empowered communities. Young Adult Justice Community is a community- based program serving court-involved young adults living in communities with high rates of poverty, incarceration, probation and parole. These particular programs are important because they are designed to engage participants in subsidized community benefit projects, in one or more of the designated communities, that provide educational, work, team and civic engagement experiences, as well as youth leadership, peer mentorship, life skills and case management and that is just what NYC needs at this time.



[1]  February 21, 2013.

[2]  February 21, 2013.

[3]  December 20, 2012.

[4]  Innovations In New York City Probation Practices.  2013.


 The Guest Column is our readers' opportunity to write about a given issue or topic in an in-depth and educational manner.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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