Category: Uncategorized

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.

Continue reading

Elected Officials and Social Media Use: Should There be Rules?

Social Media can make government better, more accessible, more transparent, more accountable, all good things. But when elected officials decide that government social media accounts are theirs to use as they please, we may be in very different territory. Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum reminded us of that this week.

In 2015 the Benjamin Center studied how local governments in the Mid-Hudson region use their websites and social media. We found that nearly 97 percent of the towns, villages, and cities of the region had some digital presence. At the time of the study 60 percent of local governments had a Facebook presence, but barely one fifth were on Twitter. (This was in the sleepy pre-Trump era of Twitter.) In general, we found that the more open governments are with constituents, the more they engender trust.

Even though our study was conducted barely two years ago, it came against a very different societal backdrop. President Obama was behind the push for government at all levels to communicate electronically with the goal of increasing trust and accountability. These days cities like Kingston and Poughkeepsie maintain fairly active Twitter accounts and post frequently. This seems appropriate: In our fast-paced era, when even Facebook seems too onerous to peruse, governments that can blast quick info to constituents (especially missives that can be read on a phone) are reaching people quickly and simply.

But what happens to the trust that openness engenders when the public official steps out of his or her governance role, and uses official social media platforms to advance personal views, or agendas?

Once Donald Trump pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona, sheriffs around the country have felt emboldened to use social media to express their own views, sometimes using government platforms as their bullhorn. The latest but hardly the most inflammatory missive came this past weekend when Ulster County Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum used both Facebook and Twitter to tell citizens to boycott the NFL because, he argued, players taking a knee during the national anthem were being unpatriotic.

This isn’t nearly as disturbing as sheriffs in Oklahoma trying to thwart criminal justice reform through use of official social media communications.  Continue reading

New Benjamin Center brief considers “quasi-magnet” high school model for Ulster County

This press release was originally published by SUNY New Paltz here. 

The Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz has released a new policy brief, “Sharing Educational Programs: A Quasi-Magnet Model for Ulster County High Schools,” authored by Charles V. Khoury, District Superintendent of Ulster Board of Cooperative Education Services (Ulster BOCES).

This brief is the eighth in a series produced through “A 2020 Vision for Public Education in Ulster County,” a collaborative effort between the Benjamin Center and the Ulster County School Boards Association that seeks to promote countywide, regional thinking in the service of enhancing educational delivery and outcomes.

Khoury’s paper explores a potential model for sharing educational programming among the eight Ulster County districts, and argues that this model would expand educational opportunity for students in the final stages of their secondary education.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Increasing Preparedness for Psychosocial Response to Pandemic Disasters, Infectious Diseases, and Bioterrorism

Guest post by Amy Nitza, Director of the Institute for Disaster Mental Health

Our national politics today seem to respond only to military and ecological disasters at home and abroad. Epidemiological disasters and bioterrorism and our local and national responses to them – how they’re handled, with what consequences on the physical and mental health on our first response workers, and on our resources – deserves sustained attention. This year’s The Institute for Disaster Mental Health (IDMH) conference, Psychosocial Response to Pandemic Disasters, Infectious Diseases, and Bioterrorism, is an important opportunity for our region to increase its preparedness for this type of emergency.

Continue reading

Celebrating Women’s History: Announcing our upcoming New York State 2017 Women’s Right to Vote Centennial Conference

This year we kick off women’s history month with the centennial anniversary of the 19th amendment, ratified in 1920, rapidly approaching. That victory, of course, finally won women the vote across the United States just one hundred years ago. Yes, it took much too long for women to be able to vote in our democracy. Less widely known and acknowledged, however is that three years earlier that hard-fought suffrage victory was foreshadowed in New York, when women here won the vote at the state level. The state effort was equally hard-fought. It is a source of pride that New York’s 1917 referendum legalized full voting rights for women, preceding the national action and making ours the only east coast state to enfranchise women before 1920.

This spring we seek to share this pride with all New Yorkers with a conference that celebrates the victory of women’s suffrage in New York. At this event, we will look back on how women in New York State won the vote, consider women’s contemporary status and engagement with public life and leadership, and envision women’s future in politics. The Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexualities program in collaboration with our partners the Departments of History, Political Science, and Sociology at SUNY New Paltz; The Rockefeller Institute of the State University of New York; the FDR Library; and the League of Women Voters of New York State have worked together to plan this examination of the history, the present situation, and the future of women in the public sphere. Continue reading

Skip to toolbar