Poughkeepsie, NY… The Dutchess County Criminal Justice Council (CJC) has released its 2021 Annual Report, highlighting the ongoing collaboration between numerous Dutchess County departments, community organizations, law enforcement agencies, and justices to maximize resources and continually enhance the criminal justice system. The CJC’s continuum of services and interventions has been recognized as a state and national model for reducing recidivism and ensuring community safety.
During 2021, agencies throughout the criminal justice system creatively adapted to conducting meetings and court sessions virtually and continued providing essential services, including pre-trial diversion services, re-entry programming, training for first responders, and many others despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, agencies have continued to adapt to the impacts following the recent state Bail Reform legislation and changes to Discovery rules. In 2020 and 2021, Dutchess County agencies have struggled to provide services such as pre-trial intervention, probation, or other alternatives-to-incarceration programs that offenders would have been connected to prior to bail reform. Similarly, district attorneys throughout the state have grappled with recent reform to the discovery process, as onerous timelines and protocols that accompanied the reform have forced prosecutors to often drop prosecution of many cases, putting victims and witnesses at even more risk and allowing defendants back on the streets, often to re-offend.
County Executive Molinaro said, “Beyond creating an important model for others to emulate, the work of this council and our criminal justice system continues to offer offenders a comprehensive path through the system towards a better life. We remain committed to meeting people where they are and helping them get to where they want to be – with their families and contributing to their community. Recent changes to Bail Reform and Discovery legislation have been a shock to the criminal justice system across the state and this council and the agencies of the criminal justice system are to be commended for their diligence and innovation in becoming a model for others in how to confront change and ensure the system works effectively to protect public safety and give hope to those who need it most.”
Kevin Warwick, member of the CJC’s Special Populations Workgroup and nationally recognized criminal justice consultant from Alternative Solutions Associates, Inc., said, “Dutchess County is the only county in the country with such an extensive coordination of services, collaboration between agencies, and activities throughout its entire criminal justice system. From intervening with those at-risk of committing crimes to helping offenders successfully re-enter the community and reduce their risk of re-offending.”
The CJC is comprised of 10 committees covering various topics and populations within the system. In 2021, the CJC’s various committees have worked to investigate trends in data related to recidivism and incarceration, improve services for juveniles in the criminal justice system, and initiate strategies and interventions to overall improve the criminal justice system. Among the 2021 committee activities:
- The Quality Assurance Committee (QA) continued multiple analyses of the Dutchess County Jail (DCJ) population to better understand the reality of the existing criminal justice system and inform policy making. The committee has also begun studying the impact of Bail Reform. Retrospectively, the committee’s analysis showed reincarceration rates of nearly 50 percent among those previously held for Misdemeanor and Non-Violent Felony offenses, which are now non-qualifying offences under Bail Reform. The analysis also verified that yearly DCJ admissions for non-qualifying offenses declined by nearly 1,500 and that, unless sentenced, people arrested for such offenses can no longer benefit from the County’s successful RESTART program, which has been proven to reduce individuals’ risk to re-offend. The committee will continue to objectively evaluate prospective impacts of Bail Reform and will assist in developing innovative policies and practices.
- The Re-Entry and Special Populations sub-committees advocated and supported the expansion of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) at the DCJ to include induction and maintenance for individuals with substance use disorders. A case manager was also tasked with ensuring a smooth transition for program participants re-entering the community.
- With a technical assistance grant awarded in partnership with the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services and the Office of Probation and Community Corrections, the Juvenile Justice Committee has been working with the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice and other county stakeholders to review the entire juvenile justice system to identify areas for enhancement and work has begun on the project’s first recommendation – choosing a trauma screening instrument linked to community resources. This is especially important considering the significant increase in a need for youth mental health services due to lingering negative impacts on young people’s social and academic development following the isolation of virtual schooling.
- The Police Reform and Modernization Committee, the CJC’s newest committee, completed its police modernization plan in conjunction with the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies as well as significantly increased the diversity of the pool of candidates applying for the police exam.
- Assessing the needs of domestic violence and other victims and survivors was the focus of the Victims and Justice-Involved Women’s committees in 2021, including a partnership with Marist College to develop surveys to identify additional service needs due to the pandemic and to analyze the results to implement strategies to better meet the needs of both victims and women.
- Gender-responsive strategies and programs were also addressed in 2021 and a residential center for women, operated by Project M.O.R.E., is scheduled to open early this year. The residence for women will open additional beds for male residents at the Re-Entry transitional housing center in the Town of Poughkeepsie. This will also permit expansion of existing programs as well as introducing the new RECHARGE (Re-Entry Community Housing and Resource Guided Empowerment) program. RECHARGE will be the next step for participants in the County’s successful jail-based RESTART program. Once individuals are released from DCJ, RECHARGE will assist with finding permanent housing, employment, education, and other supports necessary to successfully re-enter the community and not re-offend.
Additional highlights from 2021 include:
- Secured funding through the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services for a 16th year of re-entry programming, which is provided by Exodus Transitional Community at the Re-Entry Center, located at 97-99 Cannon St. in the City of Poughkeepsie:
- Provided assessment services to 260 individuals
- 162 participants completed the anger management program
- 107 participants completed the Ready, Set, Work program
- 146 participants found employment
- Worked with Exodus and Community House Initiatives to evaluate and increase services at the 8-bed, 90-day transitional housing facility for homeless parolees on North Hamilton Street in Poughkeepsie, including:
- Adding Moral Reconation Therapy Classes
- Partnered with Vassar College to offer college credit courses with both Vassar students and six formerly incarcerated individuals participating.
- RESTART was held virtually in 2021 thanks to collaboration between program and corrections staff.
- The Special Populations Committee continued to review and provide input for the design of the programming units of the new Justice and Transitions Center to ensure physical layout and programming needs continue to be aligned.
- The Diversion Committee assisted in offering Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) to local law enforcement agencies. Since 2015, 442 law enforcement officers and 32 emergency dispatchers have completed the 40-hour training with an additional 179 officers and Corrections Officers completing the Basic CIT 8-hour course. This results in 79 percent of active county law enforcement being trained.
- The Community Involvement Committee participated in and presented many virtual public forums, including on the Dutchess County Judicial Drug/Diversion Program (Drug Court) with graduates from the program sharing their experiences and community experts discussing new approaches to helping individuals with substance use disorders.
- The Centralized Arraignment Committee continued to research the efficacy of Centralized Arraignment in Dutchess County for after-hours criminal arraignments to provide these court proceedings more efficiently.
CJC Chair and Director of the Office of Probation and Community Corrections, Mary Ellen Still, said, “We are grateful to have so many agencies and facets of the criminal justice system represented on the Criminal Justice Council. Despite the challenges the past year has put on the system, we are united in our commitment to continuing to improve the system and ensuring those within the system receive fair and equitable treatment and our community is safer for all.”
For more information on the Dutchess County Criminal Justice Council, visit dutchessny.gov.