The BenCen Blog

Informing Public Discourse in the Hudson Valley and Across the State

Author: Joshua Simons

How the City of Poughkeepsie Flunked its Own Test (Part 3)

Twenty years ago the City of Poughkeepsie debuted a Comprehensive Plan meant to be a road map for revitalization. If you look at Poughkeepsie today you can see, broadly, how well or poorly the City followed its own plan. Look around and there are indeed pockets of vitality — but also far too little of it. To spoil the plot, Poughkeepsie veered from the plan it devised for its own rescue, and it did so comprehensively. This three-part post seeks to grade these efforts. The first will evaluate Housing, Zoning and Transportation. The second will evaluate Cultural Resources, Parks and Recreation, and Historic Resources. The third will evaluate Main Street Revitalization, the Cottage Street Business Park, and Waterfront Strategies.

At the end of the 1998 City of Poughkeepsie Comprehensive Plan there is a list of initiatives listed for each of its recommended strategies, as well as a rating of their priority. The list also indicates if the initiative is an immediate goal, a short-term goal, a mid-range goal, or a long-term goal. It has been 20 years since the plan was adopted, enough time to have some impact. So we decided to grade the city’s performance. To do this we assigned 5 points to high priority initiatives, 3 points to medium priority, and 1 point to low priority. This post will focus on Main Street Revitalization, the Cottage Street Business Park, and Waterfront Strategies. (Editor’s Note: The BenCen’s entire series How the City of Poughkeepsie Fell Short, with three prior chapters, is now live and can be explored in depth here.)

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How the City of Poughkeepsie Flunked its Own Test (Part 2)

Twenty years ago the City of Poughkeepsie debuted a Comprehensive Plan meant to be a road map for revitalization. If you look at Poughkeepsie today you can see, broadly, how well or poorly the City followed its own plan. Look around and there are indeed pockets of vitality — but also far too little of it. To spoil the plot, Poughkeepsie veered from the plan it devised for its own rescue, and it did so comprehensively. This three-part post seeks to grade these efforts. The first will evaluate Housing, Zoning and Transportation. The second will evaluate Cultural Resources, Parks and Recreation, and Historic Resources. The third will evaluate Main Street Revitalization, the Cottage Street Business Park, and Waterfront Strategies.

At the end of the 1998 City of Poughkeepsie Comprehensive Plan there is a list of initiatives listed for each of its recommended strategies, as well as a rating of their priority. The list also indicates if the initiative is an immediate goal, a short-term goal, a mid-range goal, or a long-term goal. It has been 20 years since the plan was adopted, enough time to have some impact. So we decided to grade the city’s performance. To do this we assigned 5 points to high priority initiatives, 3 points to medium priority, and 1 point to low priority.  In the last post Housing, Zoning and Transportation were evaluated.  This post will focus on Cultural Resources, Parks and Recreation, and Historic Resources. (Editor’s Note: The BenCen’s entire series, How the City of Poughkeepsie Fell Short, is now live and can be explored in depth, here.)

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How the City of Poughkeepsie Flunked its Own Test (Part 1)

 

Twenty years ago the City of Poughkeepsie debuted a Comprehensive Plan meant to be a road map for revitalization. If you look at Poughkeepsie today you can see, broadly, how well or poorly the City followed its own plan. Look around and there are indeed pockets of vitality — but also far too little of it. To spoil the plot, Poughkeepsie veered from the plan it devised for its own rescue, and it did so comprehensively. This three-part post seeks to grade these efforts. The first will evaluate Housing, Zoning and Transportation. The second will evaluate Cultural Resources, Parks and Recreation, and Historic Resources. The third will evaluate Main Street Revitalization, the Cottage Street Business Park, and Waterfront Strategies.

At the end of the 1998 City of Poughkeepsie Comprehensive Plan there is a list of initiatives listed for each of its recommended strategies, as well as a rating of their priority. The list also indicates if the initiative is an immediate goal, a short-term goal, a mid-range goal, or a long-term goal. It has been 20 years since the plan was adopted, enough time to have some impact. So we decided to grade the city’s performance. To do this we assigned 5 points to high priority initiatives, 3 points to medium priority, and 1 point to low priority. Let’s see how the city did. (Editor’s Note: The BenCen’s entire series, How the City of Poughkeepsie Fell Short, is now live and can be explored in depth, here.)

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The City We Imagined

The Rip Van Winkle Apartments as proposed in 1969, as an example of unmet expectations.

In 1998 the city of Poughkeepsie underwent a planning process that culminated in an updated comprehensive plan, and that plan is the current plan used by the city.

A comprehensive plan is meant to be a shared vision of what a city should be, and a tangible roadmap of how to get there. Comprehensive plans are long-term, very broad in scope, and expresses the city’s collective public policy preferences on transportation, housing, land use, recreation, utilities, historic preservation, economic development, environmental protection, sustainability, and resilience, among other areas of focus. The vision is derived after input from the public, policy makers, and stakeholders; from these sources, the plan is drawn. The public is thus both informed on the ongoing creation of the plan, and a source of input that informs its creation. Typically, in New York State the adoption of a comprehensive plan is the precursor to overhauling the zoning code so that it conforms to and facilitates the new plan. (Editor’s Note: The BenCen’s entire series, How the City of Poughkeepsie Fell Short, is now live and can be explored in depth, here.)

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Dutchess County Jail is Among the State’s Worst Offenders

Dutchess County Jail is Among the State’s Worst Offenders

 

Our recommendations to address mental health care and education—without cost over-runs

The New York State Commission of Corrections (SCOC) recently named the Dutchess County jail as one of the five worst in New York State (The Worst Offenders), one that “pose[d] an ongoing risk to the health and safety of staff and inmates, and, in instances, impose[d] cruel and inhumane treatment of inmates in violation of their Constitutional Rights.”

This news comes a full seven years after the Benjamin Center (then called CRREO) published its study on A Collaborative Approach to County Jailing in the Hudson Valley. We were looking for, and found, ways that counties could collaborate to control or diminish operational costs while continuing to fully assure safety and professional operation. What did we recommend?

Overcrowding and boarding inmates out at great expense were big issues. They’re being addressed so we won’t look further at them here. The jail currently operates under a variance given by the Commission that allows the use of temporary dormitory pods, pending completion of a new jail addition. Construction is still in the planning phase, with completion pushed back from 2017 to 2023.

Mental Health Services:

By circumstance, rather than design, jails have become the default local institutions that confine citizens with mental health problems. A major reason is that, as a result of changes in policy enacted over decades, many state-run mental hospitals and psychiatric facilities have been shut down or severely downsized. Jail managers in our region in 2011 reported that as much as 80% of their inmate population was being treated either for mental illness or drug and/or alcohol addiction. Currently, drug and alcohol detoxification, as well as mental health treatment for all but the worst cases, is done at the jail.

The Commission report referenced two inmate suicides since 2011. It cited the jail’s medical contractor, Correctional Medical Care (CMC), for failing to identify and act upon one suicide risk (despite a documented history of suicide attempts and signs of intoxication). In the second case, jail staff and CMC failure to identify a mental illness despite the inmate reporting a mental health history, and acting strangely at his admission. Later. a CMC staffer who followed up also failed to recognize signs of mental illness, and jail staff failed to recognize signs of acute mental illness after an incident in a hallway where the inmate could not properly follow commands.

When an inmate is assessed as at risk for suicide, either at booking or at a later time, he or she must be placed on one-on-one watch for his or her own protection. One-on-one supervision (or constant watch) means what it says: 24 hour per day supervision with one officer constantly watching one inmate. This is very costly; it’s done almost exclusively by officers on overtime. Dutchess would need a major remodel to allow a single officer to monitor two or three inmates simultaneously. This requires sight lines with no blind spots, with spaces usually designed specifically for this purpose. Once an inmate is placed on one-on-one watch, he or she cannot be taken off without the authorization of a mental health professional.

In 2011 we recommended creating an intermediary secure mental health facility in the Hudson Valley that might accept inmates in need of treatment that goes beyond what a jail might effectively provide (e.g. mandating medication), but not so extensive as to warrant sending the inmate to a specialized secure mental health facility run by the state in central New York. Such a facility could provide video psychiatric evaluations at the admissions  intake of the inmate in order to determine if it is deemed appropriate to refer the inmate to the regional facility. The opportunity to seek regional solutions is diminished each time we make massive investments in another county jail.

Education:

New York State mandates that each county provides schooling for minors in jail. Worst Offenders says that Dutchess County has done an especially poor job at this.

We found that Orange County maintained an extensive education facility in its jail, and contracted with Orange County BOCES to operate a full-time school. Minors from 16-20 were mandated to attend. They were instructed in three groups defined by level of education and learning ability. Classes were held from 8-11am and 1-3:30pm. Going beyond the mandate, all inmates between the ages of 16-21 were encouraged to take vocational courses at the jail.

At any given time, the Orange County jail school enrolled 55-75 minors and 50-100 adults in its educational courses, ranging from GED and Regents high school courses to baking and podcasting. The program boasts a 97% pass rate for the GED (due to the high recidivism rate within the minor inmate population, this is a considerable number of students). Ironically, recidivism added value to the use of technology and assured some continuity in the jail’s education program. All students’ work was stored on a server so that if they left jail before the completion of their schoolwork, they could pick it up where they left off if they returned.

Implementing the collaborative regional jailing solutions we recommended for youth, women (not mentioned by the Commission) or mental health and other health services remains a heavy political lift, though it is intriguing that the state is now pushing harder than ever on counties and localities for increased collaboration, and that Dutchess has one of the strongest records in the state for its local governments working together. But even without taking such a big step, the county might get some ideas for improvement its jail operation by looking back at our 2011 study.

This is important because it was the poor screening by the medical contractor that led to the two suicides.

Partisan Gerrymandering in New York

On Monday, October 3rd, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, a potentially landmark case concerning partisan gerrymandering in redistricting the Wisconsin state legislature. Partisan gerrymandering, the drawing of legislative district lines to favor one political party over another, has long been commonplace for legislature at all levels of government. The Supreme Court has previously said the practice might be unconstitutional, but has never overturned a districting plan on this basis.

In New York State the redistricting process is done by LATFOR (The Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment). It is no secret that there is an agreement between the Republican-led State Senate and the Democratic-led Assembly that each house majority does their own redistricting and signs off on the other. This bipartisan gerrymandering has been the practice for a long time; the outcome in Gill v Whitford is therefore very important for New York.

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A City Divided

Poughkeepsie’s Arterial Highways

In the annual City of Poughkeepsie State of the City address Mayor Rob Rolison called for unity in order to overcome the city’s current woes. This got me thinking about the many ways that the City of Poughkeepsie is divided. There are the obvious political divides, and the divisions between the people who work in Poughkeepsie and those who live there, as well as innumerable other issues that separate its people, but the city has been literally divided by its built environment – more specifically, its highways. One, the Route 9 arterial, built in 1966 divides the city from its waterfront. The other, the east – west arterial, completed in 1979 makes an island of the city’s central business district, and deepened the economic and social divide between the north side and the south side.

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