The Albany County Sheriff’s Office is partnering with Albany Law School on a new strategy to prevent people from returning to jail.
Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple says the county jail has between four hundred and five hundred inmates right now – less than half of its max capacity.
But he’s looking to reduce that number even more by preventing people from returning to jail after their release. Right now, Sheriff Apple says, the recidivism rate at the Albany County Jail is about 40 to 45 percent.
“We started thinking, what can we do to lower the recidivism rate in our general pop? And that’s what we want to focus on, are the people…that are constantly coming back – they’re not getting the message. So there’s a lot of focus on re-entry at the state level. You see all kinds of state programs. We want to focus on the county level. We want to focus on those individuals that are coming in for an average of 31 days. We want to focus on what will keep you from coming back,” said Apple.
The county jail is working with Albany Law on a new plan to do that. Beginning January 1st, staff at the jail began interviewing inmates to find out their needs and what they may require when released.
It’s called New Beginnings. Albany Law School Assistant Dean Connie Mayer said students will take part in the program.
“Our students have been involved with New Beginnings from concept to launch and will continue to play a central role in refining the program from a legal perspective while also tracking the success that we know it will achieve,” said Mayer.
Albany Law School student Elena Kilcullen has developed a tablet-based pamphlet that provides information on how to find a job, housing, support services, etc. The pamphlets also include website links and phone numbers, and the inmates can access this pamphlet from their cells.
Kilcullen, a third-year student who will intern inside the jail, clicked through a demonstration of the pamphlet that connects inmates to resources within Albany County.
“So, for example, if they are an inmate diagnosed with HIV and they need housing they can go to that particular slide and look at the resources available in the Albany community,” said Kilcullen.
By engaging with inmates in the jail, the New Beginnings program differs from a typical recidivism prevention program, which often starts once an inmate has already served their time.
Again, Sheriff Apple.
“Most people, again, we’re releasing them out there with nothing. We’re not doing that any more. Now, you have a skill set. At least the knowledge to get a job, to get ID, to get transportation,” said Apple.
The Albany County Sheriff’s office has also developed a jobs program with local paving materials supplier Callanan Industries, where inmates are dropped off to work and picked up at the end of the day. At the end of their sentence, they’ve developed workforce skills and put something on their resume.
New Beginnings is not the first joint project between the sheriff’s office and Albany Law. The law school and volunteers helped interview and assist hundreds of migrants detained by federal immigration authorities who passed through the facility awaiting trial this summer.