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A report released by the Citizens Budget Commission suggests New York State could cut $96 million annually from its prison expenses — without compromising public safety — by better utilizing alternatives to incarceration. The report by the non-profit, non-partisan organization urges the state to consider expanding current alternatives to prison while empowering a correctional research and development branch to implement others. It stems from an 18-month study into the dramatic increase in prison population resulting from New York’s harsh drug laws and recent statutes that keep more criminals behind bars for longer periods. Largely in response to increased demand for prison space, New York for nearly three decades has embraced a massive expansion policy: Since the 1970s, New York has constructed 37 new prisons, costing taxpayers roughly $2 billion and nearly doubling the size of the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS). In fiscal year 2000, New York spent more than $2.3 billion to house and supervise roughly 70,000 prisoners at 79 correctional facilities, according to the report. “The increased reliance on prisons in New York State is the result of two trends also evident nationally,” according to the report, primarily written by research director Charles Brecher. “First, imprisonment has been used as a deterrent to drug abuse. Second, prison sentences have been made longer, with less opportunity for parole, in response to pressures for greater retribution and incapacitation.” HARSH DRUG LAWS Diana Fortuna, president of the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), said much of the increase in prison population is attributable to drug laws enacted in the early 1970s under Governor Rockefeller and enforced with renewed vigor in more recent years. Although there is widespread legislative and political support for revising the Rockefeller Drug Laws, there is disagreement at the Capitol on the specifics. Consequently, major reform in the near future is unlikely. “Legislatively, Albany is in a difficult place on this issue,” Ms. Fortuna said in an interview yesterday. “The Governor and the (Senate) Majority Leader have called for quite narrow changes to the Rockefeller Drug Laws, and the Assembly has a very different approach. Things seem to be frozen at this point.” In the meantime, Ms. Fortuna said, the state can take reasonable steps to control its correctional costs, while providing at least the same measure of security. “Albany needs to look at broad changes in the way it incarcerates people,” Ms. Fortuna said. “Without any reduction and possibly an increase in public safety, the state could save as much as $100 million a year by making smarter use of alternatives to incarceration at the end of sentences.” Ms. Fortuna and Mr. Brecher were at the Capitol yesterday to distribute the report and nurture legislative support. CURRENT PROGRAMS The CBC started its inquiry with a premise that it would only recommend reforms that maintain or enhance public safety. With that proviso, it recommends, among other things, expanding use of tested alternatives like “shock incarceration” and treatment programs. DOCS already makes extensive use of a boot camp or “shock incarceration” initiative started in 1987. Under that program, offenders are subjected to military-like discipline for six months, followed by another six months of intensive supervision with support services. Only convicts under the age of 39 who were not convicted of a violent crime and who have a history of drug or alcohol abuse are eligible. According to the CBC, the recidivism rate for those eligible for a shock program is lower for offenders routed to the program than those who are not: 10 percent versus 15 percent. Additionally, since the shock program results in less prison time, the state saves money, according to the report. The CBC observed that nationally the recidivism rate for offenders who complete boot camp programs and those who do not is virtually identical. However, it suggested that New York has a better record because it combines shock incarceration with intensive support services. DRUG TREATMENT Additionally, the state offers the Comprehensive Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment (CASAT) program. The three-phase plan includes approximately six months of substance abuse treatment, gradual community integration and ultimately parole. Follow-up studies, according to the report, show that prisoners who complete the CASAT program spend less time in prison and are less likely to return, saving New York about $32,000 per participant. New York also sponsors a program at the former Willard Psychiatric Treatment Center, where second-time, nonviolent drug offenders can be sentenced for 90 days of therapy. Although the program has promise, judges and prosecutors are reluctant to use it because they feel 90 days is too short a period for either viable treatment or meaningful punishment. Today, the CBC said, Willard is used primarily for parole violators referred to the program by their parole officers. SUGGESTED CHANGES According to the CBC study, both shock incarceration and treatment programs could be used more effectively. The study also recommends: � Establishing new alternative-to-incarceration programs for some offenders convicted of violent crimes and property offenses. The CBC said the state could save money without sacrificing public safety by making more convicts, such as elderly inmates and prisoners who have been substantially punished and rehabilitated, eligible for alternative programs and home confinement. � Reworking the parole system. The CBC says the state parole system should be re-engineered, perhaps in line with the remodeling of the New York City probation system between 1994-98. Using technology such as kiosks that can recognize handprints, New York City has freed probation officers from many routine tasks, fostering a more efficient and effective system of supervision. The CBC suggests the state could do the same. � Expanding the research and development arm of the Department of Corrections to scope out options other than incarceration for convicts serving the latter part of their prison term. The CBC is calling for an expanded planning department, with the authority to test new programs without special legislative approval. James Flateau, spokesman for DOCS Commissioner Glenn S. Goord, said the state has already implemented many of the CBC suggestions, and notes that by the end of this fiscal year New York will have freed nearly 26,000 prisoners on early release programs since Governor Pataki took office in 1995. He said many of the programs have already been “expanded about as far as they can go.” Mr. Flateau said some of the CBC suggestions raise unanswered questions, such as whether a convict with a violent past currently serving time for a non-violent offense should be eligible for an alternative program. The Administration’s position, he said, is that the convict should not be eligible. “There is a reluctance to open the floodgates to prior violents incarcerated for non-violent crime,” Mr. Flateau said. “It is not enough to say, �Corrections, put more people in these programs because we think they are cool.’” Further, Mr. Flateau said the Administration strongly opposes the idea that correctional authorities be allowed to experiment with new alternative programs without legislative and executive approval. “The purpose of our research units is to be a service unit, not the makers of policy,” Mr. Flateau said. “Certainly research units within a state agency should not have the authority to implement programs without the approval of the Governor, and you can’t fund them unless they have been approved by the Legislature. The law prevents what they are recommending from even being considered.”

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