The Dutchess County Comptroller has issued an audit of a program that provides alternatives to incarceration. The audit shows the programming is successful and a good investment for the county.
Project Model Offender Reintegration Experience, Inc. is commonly known as Project MORE. Based in New Haven, Connecticut, Project MORE is a not-for-profit corporation that contracts with Dutchess County to provide criminal justice reform and alternatives to incarceration programming. Dutchess County Comptroller Robin Lois says it’s one of the county’s largest contract agencies.
“So what we focused with this audit was not just on the financials as to whether they were claiming their claims appropriately and spending the money appropriately but, also, is this a program that’s working in Dutchess County and we’re really getting the bang for our buck, so to speak, and is it a good investment for the taxpayers,” Lois says. “And so we did an analysis of the statistics and the outcomes of the program itself, and the conclusion was in the end that it really is a good investment to administer these programs, and Project MORE is doing a great job for the county, and we’re seeing really good results.”
She says the cost savings realized by the diversionary programs compared to the cost of incarceration, coupled with the social benefits of providing clients with the services they need, prove to be a good investment for the county. Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro:
“The county comptroller was thorough and her report is entirely accurate. Project MORE has been one of our great successes not only in driving down costs within the criminal justice system, but really expanding Dutchess County’s restorative justice programs,” Molinaro says. “In fact, over the last seven years, we have reduced inmate population by about 200 individuals, and Project MORE has been a critical component not only to driving down inmate numbers but also in assisting the individuals in restoring their lives and getting back on their feet. And that has been a tremendous success and something we believe in strongly.”
Project MORE also oversees a Women’s Reporting Center in Poughkeepsie that serves Dutchess County women in the criminal justice system. Again, Lois:
“The Women’s Reporting Center, I did a tour there, and I was really impressed with the work that they were doing here. But that’s really a state-funded program. It’s only been around for around five years but it is already at its maximum capacity and the caseworkers are at their maximum,” says Lois. “So I think we should look to that program and say, should we expand it, should we invest in that program using county dollars so that we can help more residents in Dutchess County.”
Lois speaks more about the Women’s Reporting Center.
“So this has been a good safe place for women to go. And we found that women that were going through these programs through probation or being told to do so from the judge initially, they were coming back later knowing that the program was offering things that they really felt that they need. So voluntarily they were saying, you know what, I’d like to go in and use this employment agency program that you have or this educational program,” Lois says. “So it really has turned into something as a positive resource for women in need in the community. So, to me, that’s a good place to invest.”
Molinaro agrees the Women’s Reporting Center has been highly successful and wants to see it expanded.
“And as we continue to expand restorative justice programs, we will continue to expand the Women’s Reporting Program. Specifically, with our new Justice & Transition Center under way, we’ll have the capacity to move more individuals from jail into the Women’s Reporting Program,” says Molinaro. “We just need the tools within the jail system so that people are prepared to transition back into the community.”
He says the county has committed to a comprehensive criminal justice reform program. The Justice & Transition Center project, aka the new jail complex, has been controversial. And it’s something Lois says has been consuming her time.
“I’ve been all encompassed in this kind of view of the criminal justice system. So we’re also looking at the public defender’s office. We’re looking at the cost of the construction for the sheriff’s office. We’ve been looking at some of the cost constructions for the new public defender’s office because I really do want to make sure that I have a grasp on what we’re doing in the county around the criminal justice system through probation, through the sheriff’s office, and what not,” Lois says. “So, because of this jail, it’s such a big project, I want to make sure that we’re doing the right thing.”
She is looking into how alternatives to incarceration affect daily counts to see if the new jail is being constructed at the right size. She says daily counts are affected by numerous factors. Yet to be determined is the impact of the state’s just-passed bail reform measures.
Meantime, PROJECT More provides several community correctional services for Dutchess County — the Community Transition Center; Transitional Housing Program; and an in-jail and post-release program called Re-Entry Stabilization Transition And Reintegration Track, or RESTART. These three contracts with the county totaled $2.3 million in 2017 and more than $2.4 million in 2018.