The spread of the COVID-19 virus has prompted new calls for prosecutors, judges, mayors, governors, commissioners, attorneys general, and other public leaders to limit the number of new inmates entering jail and prison, while releasing sentenced individuals with low risk to public safety and high risk of serious illness or death if they contract the virus. Organizations around the country are disseminating information for use by advocates and policy makers in pressuring responsible officials to take urgent action for immediate releases and reductions of new incarceration.
Less attention has been given to providing information about immediate support for communities directly impacted by mass incarceration. It is our aim in this section to provide information and resources related to benefits for these individuals, and to identify community organizations who continue their operations during the pandemic and are providing this support. Questions about benefits and social supports include:
- How will visitation, communication, and higher education programming for incarcerated populations be affected during the public health crisis?
- How have policies and guidance for people on probation and parole changed in response to COVID-19?
- What financial and housing resources exist for individuals recently released from jail or prison in response to a health emergency?
- In the midst of a global pandemic, how have community organizations adjusted their operations to meet the demands of their constituents while keeping staff safe and secure? How are community organizations led by people with direct experience mobilizing their community?
- How can community organizations and government agencies coordinate efforts to address the needs of this vulnerable population both during and after COVID-19?
People impacted by the criminal justice system – including individuals who have experienced incarceration and their families – require tailored support to meet their unique challenges. Many nonprofit organizations continue providing services despite the COVID-19 interruption, sometimes as the only organizations in a position to provide any direct support in the community.
"Groups supporting prison re-entry are scrambling to adapt. Many organizations used to connect with clients while they were still incarcerated, to make a plan for release. But as prisons nationwide ban visits and volunteer programs to deter the virus’s spread, it’s getting harder to reach people inside. Advocates and attorneys are trying to arrange phone calls or video visits instead, though some say corrections officials have been unresponsive. Most check-ins with parole or probation officers are now by phone."
–Christie Thompson, Freed From Prison for 26 Years–Into a Coronavirus Hot Spot
This situation highlights the inadequacy of the social safety net, the need for greater levels of funding and support for these services, and better coordination between government, communities, and the public and private sector. Despite a coordinated effort across the criminal justice ecosystem to release low-risk citizens in response to the crisis, less attention has been paid to their needs once free. This situation poses serious challenges for individuals struggling to survive after incarceration:
"Coming home after decades behind bars is always disorienting. But for the people being released in the time of coronavirus, the experience is particularly jarring—trading the fear of getting sick in captivity for a curtailed, isolated kind of freedom. Nonprofits and social service agencies that support them are overwhelmed, short-staffed or moving most of their programs online. Family members they’ve waited years to reunite with are huddled at home. Food service and other industries that might hire a formerly incarcerated applicant have been decimated. And many small, everyday liberties are now a public health risk."
–Christie Thompson, Freed From Prison for 26 Years–Into a Coronavirus Hot Spot
Section 3A provides information about changes in policies concerning visitation, education and community supervision.
Changes to Visitation, Communication, and Education Programming in New York State Jails & Prisons
In normal times, there is significant evidence of the crucial role of contact with family, friends, and supporters in maintaining mental health and enabling people to rebuild their lives and avoid reincarceration. In this time of crisis, maintaining contact with lawyers, family members, and sources of support have become both more difficult and more critical. Local, state, and federal officials have suspended in-person visitation in the interest of reducing the spread of COVID-19. However, reports indicate that only a few have accompanied this suspension of visitation with increased access to available forms of communication, such as by waiving fees for phone calls and video communication. In addition, some states have taken steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by limiting or suspending all in-person community supervision, including probation and parole.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill De Blasio, and the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) have instituted a range of changes in policies related to probation, parole, and visitation in light of COVID-19 developments, including ways to stay connected despite these interruptions. They are summarized below.
- Suspension of visitation at facilities statewide
- The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (NY DOCCS) has suspended visitation at facilities across the state
- To help families stay connected, NY DOCCS is providing incarcerated individuals 5 free stamps per week, two free electronic messages per week via electronic tablet, and two free 30-minute phone calls per week.
- Legal visits are not covered by this visitation suspension. DOCCS policy provides that “legal visits will be conducted as non-contact (i.e. no physical contact allowed), as requests are submitted, and that option remains available within the facilities.” The DOCCS policy provides that “legal visits will not be impacted by this visitation suspension. Legal visits will be conducted as non-contact (i.e. no physical contact allowed), as requests are submitted, and that option remains available within the facilities.”
- The Marshall Project is tracking visitation policies of state prisons state-by-state.
- The Osborne Association’s video visiting program is suspended. Osborne is working to restore video visiting as soon as possible.
- Suspension of visits to city New York City jails
- Beginning March 18, the City implemented a policy suspending in person visits in city jails.
- The City is continuing its policy of “providing all persons in custody with domestic phone calls - free of charge, to help people in custody stay in contact with their families and communities.”
- The city is also working to implement a televisit initiative that will allow family and chosen family of people in custody the ability to remain in contact using their own personal PC or mobile device. Details and updates to the policy found here.
- Higher Education Programs in Jails and Prisons
- Beyond posing immediate public and personal health concerns, COVID-19 has disrupted the higher-education programs that many people who are incarcerated may depend upon.
- The Alliance for Higher Education in Prison is collecting and disseminating information and resources from higher education in prison programs that are taking action to support their students and working to adapt their programming. All resources will be posted to their COVID-19 Action Page, including additional health and wellness resources for people who are incarcerated.
Suspension of in person reporting for community supervision
- Policy organizations, such as the Vera Institute, and professional associations such as Community Supervision Executives, have issued reports and statements recommending suspension of in-person reporting for probation, parole, and other forms of community supervision during the pandemic.
- New York’s Department of Community Supervision has followed this recommendation. All in-person reports of individuals under state community supervision are suspended until April 17, 2020, with an extension to a future date expected as necessary
- The Department’s Community Supervision staff will continue to maintain contact with the parolee population remotely (via telephone calls, text messages, videoconferencing, GPS electronic monitoring)
This electronic contact will count as a positive field contact during this interim period. Details and updates to the policy found here.
Many nonprofit organizations around New York City have continued providing services to communities affected by mass incarceration. While daily operations have necessarily adjusted to new working dynamics in accordance with city and health official guidelines, these organizations continue to provide emergency food and healthcare assistance, treatment services, virtual case management, online courses and tutorials, and much more. The list below outlines the organizations and the services they provide.
Most Human Resource Administration and Department of Social Services offices are closed, and are instead conducting their work virtually. HRA is asking New Yorkers to “to do everything they can online through ACCESS or by telephone.” HRA’s website assures beneficiaries that “no negative case actions will be taken for missing appointments” and that during the crisis “beneficiaries need not recertify and benefits will continue.” Job and service centers where you can get cash assistance, Medicaid, and SNAP/food stamps have been consolidated in each borough. For a full list of open and closed sites, click here. Many services will be provided over the phone or online at nyc.gov/accesshra.
Unemployment, Sick Leave, and Mutual Aid Benefits Access
The government, public and private sector, and grassroots organizations have begun to answer the call of citizens for financial assistance in the midst of the crisis. Below is a list of a number of these efforts.
- Unemployment benefits: Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act)
On March 27, 2020, the President of the United States signed a law that provides additional Unemployment Insurance assistance to workers impacted by COVID-19. This new law provides:
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance – Extended eligibility for individuals who have traditionally been ineligible for UI benefits (e.g., self-employed workers, independent contractors);
- Pandemic Unemployment Compensation – An additional $600 per week, on top of regular benefits, to all UI recipients; and
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation – An additional 13 weeks of UI benefits, beyond the regular 26 weeks already provided, for a total of 39 weeks of coverage.”
- This website provides responses to frequently asked questions about unemployment insurance.
- These benefits will likely not be available to individuals just released from incarceration who have not yet received a job offer.
- A Better Balance has prepared a fact sheet summarizing The Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
- Paid sick leave: In response to Covid-19, the federal government enacted in March 2020 the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). As a result, federal law as of April 1, 2020 provides for coverage for paid sick leave related to Covid-19 for around 50% of US workers and extended paid family and medical leave for some parents with children who are no longer in school due to the virus. In New York State, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has guaranteed workers job protection and financial compensation in the event they, or their minor dependent child, are subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation issued by the state of New York, the Department of Health, local board of health, or any government entity duly authorized to issue such order due to COVID-19. These benefits are not available to employees who are able to work through remote access or other means. A Better Balance has prepared a fact sheet summarizing the New York State’s Emergency Paid Sick Leave Legislation and its relationship to federal law.
- Paid Family Leave: In New York State, paid family leave can also be used to care for a family member who has contracted COVID-19, which qualifies as a serious health condition.
- Mutual aid organizations:
- Mutual aid organizations have formed across the city, state, and country to provide support for immediate and urgent needs that are not adequately met by the government. These organizations involve “people within marginalized communities organizing within their network to assist each other, and to do it fast—without bureaucratic application processes and without forcing people to beg.”
- Mutual Aid NYC, a network of groups organizing to provide aid and support to New Yorkers, has compiled a list of over 90 mutual-aid organizations supporting citizens across the city.
- The NYC COVID-19 Financial Solidarity for Formerly Incarcerated People and Their Families Mutual Aid Project (New York City)
- This mutual aid project is taking donations and redistributing them to formerly incarcerated folks and their loved ones in New York City (up to $250 per person).
- The NYC Covid-19 Response Fund is pooling funds to offer support to black families in the NYC area impacted by COVID-19
- The fund is designed to offer financial support, quarantine supplies, and any other support needed
Services Offered By Community Based Organizations
Community re-entry and support organizations operate on the frontlines of supporting the formerly incarcerated population transition back into society. These organizations serve as a lifeline to services and information for people after release, and have been hard at work during the pandemic to continue serving both current and new clients. Although many are struggling with limited resources and mobility, they continue to provide crucial day-to-day support for people who have experienced incarceration, as well as leadership in advocating for policy change. Please find a list below of reentry organizations continuing this work in support of New Yorkers.
- Mission: The Fortune Society’s mission is to support successful reentry from incarceration and promote alternatives to incarceration, thus strengthening the fabric of our communities.
- Services during the COVID-19 pandemic: In response to COVID-19, the Fortune Society closed their Long Island Office and is providing most services remotely. Those services include;
- Court Advocacy: Court Advocates are remotely accepting referrals from court/community partners via telephone or video, including pleas for felony matters. Paul Plumitallo, email@example.com, 929-487-9482
- Outreach: Staff are remotely accepting new referrals for individuals in the community on parole and for individuals detained on violations of parole, and are following up with existing clients. Bronx and Queens County Reentry Task Forces are operating, accepting new referrals, and coordinating services remotely. Staff are conducting all communications via telephone or video. Denisha Rapier, firstname.lastname@example.org, 929-487-9480
- Benefits Access: Staff are providing all services via telephone or video, including applications for SNAP, Medicaid, cash assistance, unemployment, birth certificates, New York State ID, etc. Nicholas Posada, email@example.com, 929-487-9811
- Care Management/Healthcare: Staff are accepting new enrollments and providing connections to healthcare, mental health and substance use treatment, Medicaid activation/reactivation, and medical transportation. They are also providing connections to parole mandates, 2010e application assistance, and connections to home and community-based services for those who qualify (peer services, educational and employment supportive services, psychosocial rehabilitation, etc.). Zoe Johnson, firstname.lastname@example.org, 347-510-3411 or Rich Medina, email@example.com, 917-617-4006
- Creative Arts: Staff are providing creative writing workshops, art classes, and acting classes via telephone or video. Jamie Maleszka, firstname.lastname@example.org, 347-510-3668
- Drop In Center: Staff are following up with community clients on medical care continuity via telephone or video. They are sending letters to active clients who remain in custody. Nilda Ricard, email@example.com, 646-937-535
- Education: Virtual High School Equivalency classes will resume Monday, April 6, 2020. Once resumed, day classes will be available Monday – Thursday from 10am-12pm and 1-3pm, and evening classes will run from 6-8pm. Virtual training courses will be available in Social Services 101, Environmental Remediation, and Green Building Operations and Maintenance. firstname.lastname@example.org, 347-510-3628
- Employment: Staff will provide virtual Soft Skills Job Readiness Training program workshops, workplace and retention success workshops, and the Transitional Work Program will continue via telephone and video, offering paid, part-time, 10-week internships with partnering employers throughout NYC, coupled with case management and a weekly job club. email@example.com, 347-510-3628
- Food and Nutrition: Grab and go meals at our Harlem location are available for current residents. Fresh food curbside distribution will continue on Wednesdays at 3pm.
- Services: Staff are providing all services via telephone and video, including domestic violence groups and individual and group counseling sessions.James Judd, firstname.lastname@example.org, 929-487-9918 Jaime McBeth, email@example.com, 646-937-5357
- Housing: Fortune’s housing program in West Harlem is still open and operating. However, Fortune is currently not accepting new residents for our congregate and scattered-site housing programs. Fortune will open a new housing facility in East Harlem on April 15th, 2020. For questions about upcoming housing, contact Paul Plumitallo, firstname.lastname@example.org, 929-487-9482
- I-CAN (Prepare for Release): Jail-Based: Staff are providing curricula and handouts to clients (there is no on-site facilitator), as well as offering transportation for those released. Hotline: 347-510-3436. Community-Based: Staff are providing intakes and case management services face-to-face and via telephone or video, including referrals for housing, training, employment and education services, and providing food and clothing. Staff are also conducting toxicology screenings and virtual groups via telephone or video, and providing incentives (only available through face-to-face activity). Hotline: 347-510-3436
- Jails to Jobs (J2J): Staff are providing remote assessments and intakes via telephone or video. All work readiness workshops are virtual. Transitional Work Program participants will report to the site to receive program incentives (only available through face-to-face activity). Samantha Pugh, email@example.com, 347-988-0297
- Mental Health Services at The Better Living Center: Staff are accepting new referrals and conducting Telehealth sessions via telephone or video, including initial assessments, psychiatric evaluations, individual therapy, crisis intervention, and medication management follow-up sessions. Andrew Tate, firstname.lastname@example.org, 929-487-9916
- Substance Use Treatment Services: Staff are accepting new referrals and conducting Telehealth sessions via telephone or video, including initial assessments and individual counseling, and group sessions. Jasmine Lastra, email@example.com, 929-487-9495
All new clients and referrals can contact the office at the general number: 212-691-7554
- Mission: The Osborne Association offers individuals who have been in conflict with the law to transform their lives through innovative, effective, and replicable programs that serve the community by reducing crime and its human and economic costs.
- Services: Osborne has closed its offices, but continues to provide services to clients currently enrolled in Osborne’s programs. These services include:
- alternatives to incarceration such as outpatient substance abuse programming,
- family services and supports,
- cognitive behavioral treatment,
- educational, restorative and health programs for older individuals, people with HIV and other chronic conditions, and people serving long prison sentences.
- employment training, job placement, and job creation
- policy advocacy, training, and technical assistance
- Changes to Operations: Osborne Association closed their offices to the public until schools re-open, and have arranged for most staff to work remotely. The organization is in the midst of acquiring sufficient tech capacity to keep in contact with most participants.
For up-to-date information about Osborne programs and services, call 718-707-2798.
- Mission: With a firm belief in human resilience, Exodus Transitional Community provides opportunities for people affected by the criminal justice system by reshaping their futures through education and training, meaningful employment and financial independence.
- Exodus continues to keep its doors open, operating both virtually and with a small skeletal staff. The program continues to provide people coming home from prison with “a hot meal, a change of clothes, and a safe place to sleep,” along with a metro card a contract coach to link people to healthcare and mental health services. 90% of Exodus’ staff are justice-involved, have achieved higher education, are credentialed to do this work, and know first-hand the challenges individuals released from incarceration face.
- Changes to Operations: Exodus reduced hours and suspended job readiness workshops, but maintains a small team of staff onsite. They continue to provide virtual services.
You can reach Exodus by calling 917-492-0990 ext. 118 or by visiting their website at https://www.etcny.org/.
- Employment programs
- Mission: America Works has helped more than 800,000 individuals increase their self-sufficiency through gainful employment, including military veterans, welfare and SNAP recipients, young adults, the criminal justice involved, homeless, non-custodial parents, persons receiving disability, among others. America Works uses a blended model that includes work readiness training, vocational training, career placement, career advancement, and employment retention services
- Changes to Operations: America Works is working virtually and is still available to assist. Headquarters can be reached at 212-599-5627.
- STRIVE helps a population seeking a better life acquire the skills and attitudes they need to find sustained employment. The New York office provides job counseling, job readiness training, connections to transportation and childcare, leadership development, workshops on financial management
- Changes to Operations: STRIVE NY continues to work virtually. By leveraging technologies and learning tools, including the iSTRIVE online learning management system, STRIVE are able to virtually share best practices and help our team members on the front lines. STRIVE is receiving calls at (212) 360-1100.
General Resources for New Yorkers
- My Bronx Impact On Line is the Bronx's new search, referral and application website for connecting all people in need to the programs that serve them. It is a key strategy of Bronx Impact, a poverty reduction collaboration among Children’s Aid, Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr, and the Center for Bronx Nonprofits. My Bronx Impact on Line helps people facing social needs - and those who help others - to find and make referrals to appropriate programs and services for food, shelter, health care, work, financial assistance and more.
- The city of New York continues to update their website on information regarding a range of benefits of New Yorkers in response to COVID-19, including workers rights and benefits, healthcare and insurance, food, housing, employment, people with disabilities, schools, mental health resources, and more.
- The Benefits Plus Learning Center has created a comprehensive guide on public benefit and housing programs as well as resources for working New Yorkers during the emergency state of COVID-19. These resources are updated frequently.
- The Financial Coaching Corps (FCC) has compiled resources and financial tips for New Yorkers struggling during the current crisis.
- The City Bar Justice Center also released a resource for New Yorkers dealing with the financial impact of the Coronavirus.
- Unity Recovery is offering free virtual recovery meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Landlord Watch – COVID 19 Response This site includes FAQs and resources for folks looking for housing in NYC during the crisis.
Advocates, think tanks, and public officials have produced recommendations aimed at addressing the challenges facing individuals dealing with reentry amidst the COVID-19 crisis, including:
- An article from the Prison Policy initiative advocates for changes in a range of policies, including reducing financial barriers to communication.
- The Council of State Governments’ “Seven Questions About Reentry Amid COVID Confusion” is directed toward state policymakers and corrections administrators who will be coordinating the release of members of this vulnerable population in the coming days and weeks.
- An article from Vera Institute of Justice summarizes recommendations of underway from think-tanks and non-profits encouraging state and local probation and parole authorities to revise their policies in response to COVID-19.
- The Federal Bureau of Prisons published a memo on “Modified Operations for Residential Reentry Centers.” Because the biggest challenge to re-entry is housing, and the risk of infection increases in shared spaces, the need for safe living arrangements is paramount.
- The Director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center has encouraged changes in licensing requirements to enable people with criminal records to work as respiratory therapists and other health care workers currently in short supply and essential to meet the demands of the health crisis.
- Some people are taking direct action. The Financial Solidarity for Formerly Incarcerated People and Their Families Mutual Aid Project set up a fund to support those who have been incarcerated and their families.
The Parole Preparation Project has developed a list of demands for Governor Andrew Cuomo, and is collecting donations to provide current and formerly incarcerated with necessary resources.
Click here to download the full report.