To Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes, the key to reducing crime lies in putting a rubber stopper in the courthouse’s infamous revolving door — starting with those who just ended their rotation.
“As the chief law enforcement officer in this borough, I’m responsible for public safety,” Hynes told a group of law students from the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development at St. John’s. “Recidivism reduction directly impacts public safety.”
Since 1999, his office’s ComALERT (Community And Law Enforcement Resources Together) program has selected thousands of those Hynes calls the “formerly incarcerated” and tried to send them on a path other than the streets, continued crime, and, once again, jail.
When the program was first proposed, about 4,000 convicts were coming to Brooklyn each year, Hynes said.
It was estimated that six out of 10 of these convicts would be going back to prison within three years with most of them being sent back upstate within 12 months.
“We figured we could change the lives of these folks if we put them together with some volunteer agencies and wrap them up with services like health care and Social Security cards,” he said.
Under ComALERT, released convicts are given a psychosocial assessment to determine if they are eligible for the program with 48 hours of their release – right when they are required to report to the Division of Parole.
If they qualify for the program, they will be directed to the ComALERT Counseling Service EDNY Center at 210 Joralemon Street, where they will be given help in their “transition” from prison to home, Hynes explained.
Those enrolled in the program receive drug and mental health treatment and counseling, GED training, and transitional housing.
Those enrolled also get computer training, as well as resume and job training skills, which Hynes said will help them build “an identity.”
“Coming out of prison, these guys and gals don’t have an identity,” Hynes explained. “All they have is a prison identity.”
The program also comes with nine months of traditional employment, Hynes said.
“It gives these folks enough time to discipline themselves,” he said. “Many of them have never been disciplined enough to go to work on time.”
A portion of their pay is set aside and accrues, so when they are done with the transitional employment and begin looking for something more permanent, they’re given $1,000 which they can use to buy clothing or put down rent for an apartment, Hynes said.
“We’re educating them [the recently incarcerated],” said Hynes. “At the same time, they are undergoing some serious rehabilitation.”
When they began the ComALERT model, the Kings County District Attorney’s office enrolled 200 convicts into the program.
At the conclusion of the program, two out of ten ended up back in prison.
Today, up to 1,200 convicts are enrolled in the program each year.
A recent Harvard study on the ComALERT program showed that the Kings County District Attorney’s office had “doubled the reduction of recidivism in the borough.”
The ComALERT program is the only one of its type on the east coast, Hynes said.
With access to funding coming from the “Second Chance Act” that was recently made a law in Washington D.C., Hynes hopes that prosecutors from across the country add programs like ComALERT to their offices.