MR. HOWARD HUSOCK:
Im Vice President for Programs
at the Manhattan Institute. Welcome to the third in a series
of four events sponsored by the Institutes Center
for Civic Innovation, designed to bring to public attention
programs that have won an important award from Harvard University,
called the Innovations in American Government Award. This
series is made possible by a grant from the Fannie Mae Foundation.
Previous winners have included the state of Iowas
Charter Agencies Program for Accountability and Results
in Government; and the Los Angeles Systematic Housing Code
Our focus today is a program for metropolitan Pittsburgh.
Its called the Allegheny County Forensic Support Services
Program, but that unassuming name belies the importance
of its work and the relevance to us here in New York and
to cities across the country. It has been notably successful
in dealing with one of the most pressing and vexing domestic
and social problems that we face today: how to help newly
released prisoners begin and continue to live healthy, law-abiding,
and constructive lives.
Today in the United States, there are more than 3 million
people serving time in prison. That is an all-time record.
Each year, more than 600,000 prisoners will be released
to return to their communities. The overwhelming majority
of these former inmates will be men with very few skills
to offer employers, andif the past is any guidemany
will suffer from drug or alcohol abuse or mental illness.
Over 60 percent of them will likely commit new crimes, leading
them back to prison. This situation is tragic for the potential
victims of crime, for the released prisoners themselves,
and for the communitiesmost often low-income minority
neighborhoods, where these criminals and their crimes tend
to be concentrated.
It was with these problems in mind that the Manhattan Institute
convened a conference titled Moving Men into the
Mainstream to inaugurate what we envisioned as
a major series of activities and research projects related
to the problem of prisoner reentry. This included taking
note of the success of those prisoner-reentry programs that
are working and the obstacles that they have had to overcome
to achieve that success, which is why were so pleased
to draw attention to the Forensic Support Services Program,
and its founder, Amy Kroll, our featured speaker today.
Five years ago, Amy took on the task of successfully reintegrating
some of the most challenging ex-offenders, those suffering
from mental health problems, and designed a program that
has led to a rearrest rate of less than one-sixth of the
Amy began her career as one of the first female correctional
officers in the state of Pennsylvania, during which time
she earned a masters degree in human services. Today,
she serves as director of Forensic Services for the Allegheny
County Office of Pennsylvanias Department of Health
and Human Services.
Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow John McWhorter will be
our second panelist. John is the author of two bestselling
books dealing with race relations in the United States and
the changing socioeconomic conditions of lower-income African-American
communities in U.S.: Losing the Race and Winning the
Race. John is playing a central role in our Moving
Men into the Mainstream project. He is currently researching
the situation of ex-offenders in Newark, New Jersey.
Our third speaker will be Anne Piehl, an associate professor
of economics and criminal justice at Rutgers University.
She has done basic and applied research in correction, sentencing,
and policing, and has served as the site evaluator of the
Allegheny County Forensic Services Support Program for the
Innovations in American Government Awards competition.
MS. AMY KROLL:
As a 23-year-old, I became one of the first female correctional
officers in the state of Pennsylvania. When I look back
at that time, one of the most haunting memories I have was
during a shift from 6 AM to 2 PM. At 6:00 in the morning,
we received a call to tell a prisoner that it was time for
him to go home. He had been in that jail for twenty years,
but when we went down to his cell to tell him that it was
time to go home, he didnt shout or jump for joy; he
began to pace. This man was schizophrenic and had been on
the ward where I was a second officer, which was then called
the nut ward. Everybody in that unit had some
type of mental illness. In those days, everybody did the
Thorazine shuffles, as we used to call it. Well,
he continued to pace for three hours before we came and
cracked his door and told him it was time to go home. Instead
of coming out, he ripped a hole into the bars on his bed.
Then we had to call what we referred to as the goon
squadsix huge mento come in and pull him
off his bed, and they pulled finger by finger. As we went
to carry him out through the cell door, he grabbed the cell
door. I was then a young graduate student, and thought,
this place is a hellhole. Why would anyone not want to leave
it? Later, after many years of working there, I realized
that these individuals came back two or three months after
At the ripe old age of forty, I was offered a job in Allegheny
County. We had been under a lawsuit; basically, our prison
was overcrowded. I began the monumental job of trying to
reintegrate people from our county jail, but after the second
month of working that job, I received a call from a psychologist
in a state prison saying, I heard you have a new program
and youre reintegrating people. Ive got this
guy in my jail and we dont know what to do with him.
Thus the state Forensic Support Services Program was born.
From there, we developed certain components of the program
with the Department of Corrections. One component was that
we needed to be informed six months in advance of anybodys
release. Ill never forget the haunted eyes of the
guy I referred to earlier, and how terrorized he was to
leave that prison. So I decided that we should get in there
and meet these individuals face-to-face. We began to meet
everybody in their own institutions, all twenty-six in Pennsylvania,
right outside their cells, usually in the common area. We
started to find out what they remembered about Pittsburgh
and what they didnt remember. Of the 426 people whom
weve reintegrated into the community, the average
length of time that they spend in our institutions is thirteen
We were going back in to these institutions two or three
timesthe first time so that they knew our faces and
to lower their anxiety level, because that anxiety level,
as soon as they hit the streets, would exacerbate any type
of mental illness that they had. Our second visit was to
let them know that we would be there the minute they walked
out the door. The third visit was the most important, because
we tried to teach each person that he is somebody. Most
of the people coming out of these institutions have low
self-esteem. They have been told when to get up, what to
wear, when to eat, when to go to bed, everything. If we
were going to turn this system around, we had to give these
people some self-esteem. So the minute they walk out, we
take them to K-mart, Hills, or Value City, and we buy them
$200 worth of new clothing. We found that this was one of
the most important things we could do for anybody, because
were not telling them that they have to go to St.
Vincent DePaul or Goodwill. Most of the prisoners had never
owned anything new.
These are people with mental illness who have maxed out,
that is, they have reached their maximum sentence. We have
no hook in them; they are not required to work with us.
But we found that most people were hungry, that they didnt
want to go back to prison, but that they didnt understand
how to negotiate the system on the outside.
We learned a lot about the client, and the clients taught
us a lot about themselves. We found that many clients have
skills that enable them to come out of K-Mart with thirty-seven
bags of clothes; other clients, because of their illness,
need help choosing and buying their clothing.
Another important thing is the hierarchy of needs. We begin
to pay peoples rent, but we dont tell them where
to live. We place them in transitional housing, and then
help them get into their own apartments. We guarantee a
security deposit and the first months rent. My boss
would put her head on her desk every time I came in with
a new bright idea, but we found that if youre paying
$26,00035,000 a year to keep somebody in prison, you
can pay a little under $3,000 to help him reintegrate into
the community, and to do so, you first have to address his
I used to give them a card that informed them where they
would go to continue their mental health treatment. Well,
those cards were littered outside the doors of the prison,
because if you dont have a roof over your head or
food in your stomach or clothes on your back, why would
you care about going to treatment? If they know our faces
and know that theyre not alone, and if we pick them
up at the bus station or the prison doors and take them
to their transitional housing, we found that they dont
go back to prison as fast or as often. If you have somebody
elses clothes on and youre living in somebody
elses house, its easy to go back; but when you
have your own possessions and you are somebody, its
a lot harder to go back. So we tried to meet everybodys
An important part of the program is hooking clients up
with medical assistance so that they can get their medications
and start their treatment. If they are very debilitated,
we help them navigate the SSI system. For those individuals
who wanted to work, we took them to a day labor center and
helped them go through the system. If their mental illness
allowed them to concentrate and work an eight-hour day,
we began to help them get full-time employment. But it was
a testing ground designed not to defeat them, because if
we put them into a full-time job right away and they failed,
it was self-defeating. Prisons are very good at helping
them learn self-defeating behavior; our program is a quicker
way to teach them to unlearn it. We used the day labor centers
as a practical way of seeing who could concentrate and work
eight hours a day and who couldnt.
Everybody knows that there is not enough housing in the
mental health system, so we decided to put the mental health
system behind us. We went to individual landlords and asked
if they would be willing to work with us. We found that
putting somebody on a waiting list to get into residential
housing, where they would be with three other people after
theyve lived their life with cellmates they didnt
like, was just not what they wanted. The way to help a client
is to get him his own apartment.
We began to work with a few landlords, guaranteeing rent,
guaranteeing a 24-hour-a-day hotline that they could call
if somebody broke a window, and assuring them that we would
come and replace that window. I did not want to go into
the real-estate business, but we have done so: we have eleven
independent landlords who call us when they have empty apartments.
We take our clients to choose their apartments, and they
say, This is where I want to live.
Of the 426 individuals out of our prisons, a third of them
are off the Social Security rolls and are now employed full-time.
The other individuals, most of whom are on SSI or on a reduced
SSI check, are trying to work part-time to gain independence.
We found that this population wont go back; only 10
percent of this population returns to jail, primarily because
of drug use. We, in turn, go back into the county jail and
help them by providing service plans and everything else
to the judge to get them back out again. To this date, weve
only sent one out of the 426 back to the Department of Corrections.
What were trying to do now in Pennsylvania is get
the funding to replicate this program in every county. We
found that if people from prison have one person whom theyve
already seen on the inside, and they meet that person on
the outside, their chances of not returning are far greater.
They feel anxiety about coming out into the unknown, of
what awaits them after having been in state prison. They
think, The world has gone on without me, and where
do I fit in? So we look at it as helping a person
recover his life. We are now working with the National Alliance
for the Mentally Ill to help people with mental illness
recover their lives. We say to our clients on the inside,
You had a life before you entered this prison. Lets
try to get it back. Not with the same details as before,
because you cant rob your neighbor, but lets
see what else you can do out there.
Some of the most incredible things have happened. A very
angry ex-inmate came into my office and said, You
told me that a full-time job and all this was going to work,
but look at these taxes and everything else theyre
taking out! Were excited, and say, Congratulations,
youre doing what all the rest of us are doing!
Another wonderful thing is when you see somebody who has
been out since the very beginning, the whole six years,
and he gets so excited when he sees you, and he says, Look
at me, Im still doing good, Im still out.
As people slowly tell us that they dont need our help
anymore, we just tell them, Look, our carpets arent
rolled up. Were in that stone building downtown. If
you get a bill you dont understand, if something is
going wrong, were here for you, were not going
away, and we have had people come back to us.
Were now looking for a grant to replicate our services
in all sixty-seven counties in Pennsylvania so that, even
in our smaller rural counties, at least theres one
person there to help these individuals negotiate the return
into their community.
DR. JOHN MCWHORTER:
There is a magnificent TV show
on HBO right now called The Wire. I highly recommend that
all of you watch it. Its about policing in Baltimore,
and the show has vividly depicted the challenges that people
face when they come from prison and try to reintegrate into
society. They face temptations of various kinds that were
all familiar with, which almost certainly will land them
back in jail.
I bought the book on the making of The Wire not long ago,
and found out that the creator of the show intends the message
to be that men without a college educationbecause
certain kinds of jobs are not as easy to get nowadayswill
almost inevitably wind up selling drugs and going to prison.
That message doesnt come through the show, but reading
300 pages of sermonizing by this creator, who is an intelligent
and compassionate person, made me realize that theres
a certain orthodoxy among many people that theres
nothing that we can do about this problem. Luckily, I think
were seeing that there is something we can do.
There are many efforts around the country now to combat
recidivism, and I am hoping that this can become a cultural
phenomenon as much as welfare reform was. One interesting
thing about welfare reform and the plummeting welfare rolls
was that the welfare rolls declined, even in places where
there wasnt that much enforcement of the new laws.
It wasnt only a matter of people being made to have
different kinds of lives, but it became part of what was
in the air or what was in the water, and so it became a
cultural factor that the old welfare as we knew it was not
a life that should be lived.
In the same way, I hope that we can see a cultural change
in our own minds in terms of how wethe powers that
write, the powers that speakunderstand how important
the issue of recidivism is. Its kind of like that
TV show The Wire. The title of it puts you straight to sleep.
You have to see the show to realize that its something
wonderful. In the same way, I think reducing recidivism
can often seem like it is one of about fifty things that
are important in terms of combating poverty and dealing
with the racial aspect of it. Its quite crucial, however.
To the extent that crumbling communities are always beset
by a certain population of people returning from incarceration,
and consequently doing the same sorts of things, teaching
their siblings and younger cousins and younger friends that
this is normal, then an awful lot of the good things that
we do for inner-city communities are reversed or eroded.
I was recently on a radio show for which I was the con
and someone else was the pro. So I was the bad
one, and the good person was somebody who has
been on the stump as a person of influence and has been
serving the public. This person is a Democrat with a certain
kind of view, and when the issue of what to do about inner-city
poverty came up, this persons answer was jobs creation.
I understand where the person was coming from, but that
paradigm hasnt really helped. Sometimes jobs can be
created, but thats not really what the problem is.
I very politely said, But weve been saying that
for forty years; we need to work on other issues.
But this person didnt understand. This culture wont
change under people of that kind of politics and generation.
I wish that person could realize that recidivism, dealing
with how people are treated in prisons, and what kind of
training they get are the most crucial aspects of combating
poverty and its effects today.
I just slogged through a biography of Timothy B. Leary.
In the 1940s, he was going to prisons and making the prisoners
use LSD, because that was supposed to reveal something.
But the main thing that he learned was about recidivism.
All these men were going to be back in prison after their
sentences, so its an age-old problem. For the sake
of the country as a whole, I think the time has come when
we can combat that.
DR. ANNE PIEHL:
I had the privilege of spending
a couple of days in Pittsburgh, touring with Amy, her staff,
and her clients. It was eye-opening and inspiring. What
Amy is talking about makes sense, but until you really see
the population that she is dealing with, you dont
fully appreciate it.
The population Amy started to work with is people who leave
state prison with major mental-illness diagnosesaccess-one
diagnoseswho were not paroled. They maxed out, or
finished their sentences. No other prisoner-reentry initiative
was directed at this population. The parole system wasnt
working with this population, and most of the programs that
have been funded under recent federal initiatives might
have ruled out this population because it didnt have
a high probability of success. Its important to commend
Amy for even taking this on to begin with and to recognize
the programs accomplishments in light of those facts.
Many programs end up cream-skimming, some on purpose, because
its easier to do that work, but many not intentionally.
We have many laws, regulations, and restrictions that prevent
even well-meaning, well-funded prisoner-reentry programs
from reaching more than 15 percent of the released population.
The federal government put about $100 million into the
Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI),
which funds very small programs100, 200, or 300 people.
Many of the programs have a hard time scaling up, even at
those relatively modest goals. We need to ensure that we
think about the easy cases, the hard cases, and the majority
of the cases as well. So my first point is that this is
a very tough population.
My second point is about the goal of the program. The goal
is stability. There is no particular outcome measure involved
for any given person. Its very individualized. Its
intensive case management. Stability looks different for
different people. For this population, its important
to have that kind of practical goal.
I saw some of the individuals in the program. One person
is receiving a $25-a-week check from some kind of public
assistance. He gets his check in the office. He goes in
to pick it up, or maybe they cash it for him, but he was
having trouble keeping his money because his family would
take it. We often think about needing to reach out to family,
and its important that we build on whatever support
systems we can. But for a lot of people, the family is not
helpful. We also heard stories about Amy or her staff protecting
people from their family on the night theyre released
from prison. The family often wants to celebrate somebodys
release from prison, but it might not be in the best interest
of the client, long-term, to be subject to those temptations.
So instead, Amy will take them shopping or to dinner, or
she might even help them leave a party celebrating their
release. So for each person, it might be different. Also,
for this population, we might need different kinds of support
from what we might need for other populations.
Throughout my site visit, I was struck by the pragmatism
of the program. I think you get that sense from Amy and
from these other stories. One man whom we met had a head
injury and such short-term memory trouble that he couldnt
stick with any plan. The staff found housing for him in
a group facility, similar to a private nursing home, where
he would get his meals and be cared for, and he was fine.
His real problem in the criminal justice system was that
he had an alcohol problem and tended to get violent when
he drank, and he couldnt remember how to stick with
his treatment program. So they found him a place to live
that was pretty far from any bars. The place was off the
bus line, and it wasnt a pretty sight. But realistically,
what was going to happen with this man otherwise? He had
recidivated several times. Its not better for him
to be incarcerated in a state facility; hes essentially
incapacitated. Hes in this nursing home and has a
life; he doesnt have family support to provide anything
else for him, so it is a solution. It is totally driven
My last point is about commitment. This whole effort was
administered from health and human services, the county
health department. Its not a correctional program.
Theyre lucky to have somebody starting this up who
understood the correctional system, or it might not have
happened. But this is a real commitment by the health department,
which is saying, This is our population, this is our
responsibility, and we have the ability to work with this
population. The health department is better at working
with this population than the corrections department, but
what weve observed over the last twenty or more years
is a drift of mission and drift in terms of resources; a
drift toward corrections and away from other parts of human
services. I dont know where to apportion responsibility
for some of this, but a program thats coming out of
the health department looks different from a program thats
starting from inside a correctional department. Thats
an important point to keep in mind when assessing this or
thinking about replication and broader lessons.
MR. HOWARD HUSOCK:
Id like to push us toward
some general principles that we might think about in this
fieldnot necessarily confined to the special population
that youre dealing with, Amy.
This is a voluntary program. If you had the resources,
would it be a good idea for it to be a mandatory program?
That is, upon release, ex-prisoners would have to work with
the kind of help that youre providing.
MS. AMY KROLL:
We actually offered the program to
one or two people who said no. After we introduced the program,
some people said, Yeah, I want to try it. That,
more than anything else, drove the program. They volunteered
for this program. They wanted it, instead of being told
that they had to take it; thats always what they were
told in jail: You have to do this to get parole, you
have to do that. So we thought, why not offer it?
We found that asking people to volunteer for this program
worked far better.
DR. ANNE PIEHL:
I would like to add one thing about it being voluntary,
which is that there is no end date. Its endogenous
when people get off their rules. Their goal is stability,
and when they feel stability is achieved with a client,
their case is closed. The parole department or some other
entity might not provide the same kind of flexibility that
MR. HOWARD HUSOCK:
Amy, what do you think is the key turning point? Is it getting
the job? Is it keeping the job for six months? When do you
have some signal that these individuals might not be going
back to prison?
MS. AMY KROLL:
They themselves are our signal. They tell us, depending
on how theyre living their life, what choices theyre
making. We know if they are making good choices. If they
start to make bad choices, we need to say to them, Was
that a good choice? Thats going to lead you one step
closer to going back, and I thought that was not what you
wanted to do. So if you think about the choice you made
before, how could you make it different? Many times,
its their choices that are showing us that theyre
MR. HOWARD HUSOCK:
What types of bad choices are they being tempted by?
MS. AMY KROLL:
Unfortunately, many times, its family and friends.
Its people, places, and things; 80 percent or more
of them have drug and alcohol problems. Many times, we see
that they start to make bad choices, going back to people
they use crack with and other things. We can see by their
behavior that they are starting to slide back again. We
then take them out someplace for coffee and say, Stop
for a second. Take a look at what youre doing. I know
youre in a hurry to get this or that, but youre
making some bad choices.
When I told my boss that I wanted to do this, she asked
me why. I said, Because these people are coming back
to our neighborhoods no matter what. Theyre going
to live beside you, me, and everybody else. One way or another,
theyre coming back, so we can either help them or
not help them, but if we tell them what to do, were
going to force a round pole into a square peg again.
The greatest compliment that clients have given us is that
we treated them like our neighbor. Its sitting down
with somebody as a friend. Were not the instructor
telling them that they are making poor choices. Were
saying, Hey, dude, what are you doing? Youre
going back the same road you came from, and I thought, when
you were on the inside, you made all those promises. You
started on the right road, but your choices are bad again.
Im not here to be your mom; Im here as your
neighbor. Think about what youre doing. No one
tells them what to do; we just give them a choice.
MR. HOWARD HUSOCK:
So your approach is an approach of personal intervention
as much as anything else.
MS. AMY KROLL:
We are neighbors.
MS. KATHLEEN COUGHLIN:
Is there any element of peer support among the clients,
where they bond with one another, in the same way that the
staff helps them individually?
MS. AMY KROLL:
In the very beginning, many of our clients were trying to
get their children back, so we were creating activities
where their caseworker would come with them to reunite them
with their child. They were only allowed to see their child
during certain hours. So we created activities where several
of the clients would get together and have that interaction.
Just recently, we applied for a grant to start a peer support
team that would go into the prisons with the caseworker
from the very beginning and say, I went through this
program three years ago, and this is what Im doing
today. Were hoping that if that grant comes
through, well start a peer support team.
MR. HOWARD HUSOCK:
Kathleen, I have a sense that youre doing that kind
of thing in New York. Is that true?
MS. KATHLEEN COUGHLIN:
I was talking about the providers who work with the New
York City Department of Corrections. People who have gone
through the process themselves staff many of those programs.
Its one thing for me to say, You can do this,
but its another thing for somebody who actually felt
those things, and experienced day by day what these clients
are feeling, to say, I felt like that, and this is
how I got through it.
MR. GARY MACDONALD:
In Florida, were having a big problem because ex-offenders
are now without their Social Security cards. Theres
a problem using prison ID to get a Social Security card.
We talked about SSI and that your people are participating
in that. Could you comment on that? After that first months
rent, presumably, theyve got a job, so they can pay
their rent. What kinds of jobs are they getting? How are
you doing that? Also, if were to take your ideas to
Florida and so forth, Id like to know what the cost
is per non-recidivated person.
MS. AMY KROLL:
Let me start with the jobs. At the day labor centers, theyre
mostly construction jobs. We have a lot of florist jobs
that they pick up there, for which they water plants in
office buildings. Two cleaning companies and three restaurants
hire, so they usually choose from any of those. We take
the individuals down and try to talk to them beforehand
about what they are interested in. Then they sign a log
based on how early they got there, and they are chosen to
go on these jobs. In our county jail, we have a job fair,
which has eleven companies with which we are familiar. If
one of our clients seems to be doing wellfor example,
he goes down five days a week and gets a job every daywe
introduce him to the businesses, depending on what theyre
doing. The jobs that were getting are mainly cleaning
jobs, construction jobs, floral jobs, and restaurant jobs.
In Pennsylvania, we can do an SSI application ninety days
before a client is due to be released. We get the prison
to give us the paperwork and the green sheet that gives
his max-out date, and we go behind the walls and complete
the application. From the psychologists, we get all the
necessary paperworkthe most recent psych evaluation
and papers declaring that he has a documented mental illness.
We also get the paperwork for welfare, for employability,
and the health-sustaining medication forms, and we complete
those applications. Because we have, unfortunately, browbeaten
our public welfare system so badly that they know us, we
have identified SSI workers with whom we drop that paperwork
off. We have identified medical-assistance application takers,
so we drop that paperwork off with them, and then we set
up the appointment so that during the week that the client
is released, everything is planned.
We have worked very closely with our Department of Corrections,
so it has a memorandum of understanding with the Department
of Transportation and our bureau of vital statistics. Now
everybody comes out of prison with his state ID, so that
he doesnt have to show an employer his prison ID.
The inmate has to pay the $10, but we have arranged with
the Department of Corrections for those inmates who dont
have money on the books to pay the $10 to get their birth
certificate and state ID. We knew that we had to be proactive,
not reactive, with their birth certificates. We got the
Department of Corrections to send for birth certificates
that are out of state. The day that they walk out, they
are handed their state ID and their birth certificate.
The cost per client is a little under $3,000. From 1999
to 2002, it was only myself, along with my blessed husband,
working with everybody who came out. We hired a wonderful
woman named Karen Dickman, who has been doing this job since
2002, and we recently hired a supervisor for the program.
If you take Karens cost per year and divide that
by the number of individuals coming out per year, then add
the $200 for clothing, the one-month security deposit and
two months rent, plus any food vouchers or other incidentals
that we need, it comes out to about $2,860 per individual.
MR. HOWARD HUSOCK:
As John McWhorter implied, we have a sense that these guys
arent going to get jobs, structural unemployment,
and all that. Peter Cove and Lee Bowes run a for-profit
organization called America Works, which places ex-welfare
recipients and, more recently, ex-prisoners, into employment.
Peter, I know you were surprised that the workforce wanted
some of these guys--and that the guys were able to stick
MR. PETER COVE:
Not only were we surprised; we were very encouraged by the
fact that the jobs are out there. A little secret of America
Works is that the ex-offenders are probably doing a bit
better than the welfare recipients in holding those jobs
right now. Were very excited about that.
Before David Osborne wrote Reinventing Government, he
wrote Laboratories of Democracy, which discussed experiments
that were going on in states around the country. This was
prior to welfare reform. He spoke about a number of programs
that were dealing with welfare at the time, and most of
them were jobs programs that were getting people jobs and
keeping them in jobs. At that time, if you will remember,
people said that companies wouldnt hire welfare recipients.
And look what has happened over the last ten years.
What is happening now in prison-to-work is the kind of
laboratory of democracy that is occurring in Pennsylvania
and other states. That is where well see whats
going to happen in our country over the next five to ten
years. I think that prison-to-work is going to be quicker
to happen than welfare reform.
Amy, what, if anything, has been the improvement of the
men with their children? Has there been any reconciliation?
Have they been coming home and paying child support? Weve
seen a bit anecdotally, but we havent done any studies
on this big issue.
MS. AMY KROLL:
Many guys who were reentering had totally lost connection
with their families. Four guys who I can think of have gone
home and through the whole reconnection process. I dont
know if you do it in New York, but in order to get custodyor
partial custodyof your children in Pennsylvania, you
have to attend various classes, start paying child support,
and pay arrears. We had one client, diagnosed with bipolar
disorder, working two and a half jobs to try to catch up
his arrears, just to be able to get an hour a week with
his children. He worked hard, and because of his goal--to
reunite with his childrenhe was kept from going back
into the crowd that he had been in (he had been a gang member).
We found that you can get many of these guys to avoid going
back to their old ways as long as you get them employed.
While the person is in jail, his payments for child support
continue to rack up. When he leaves jail, he can have $50
or even $100,000 or more that he has to pay back. This is
a disincentive to go to work.
MS. AMY KROLL:
Its nothing to see $24,000 that they owe. Thats
an average, but a lot of them are higher.
MR. MICHAEL MYERS:
There has been a culture of lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key.
Three strikes, youre in forever, so the age question
comes to mind. You said that these are inmates who have
maxed out in terms of their sentence; Im wondering
if the aging of the inmate, not just the programs, has an
effect on recidivism. After ten, fifteen, or twenty years,
youre no longer a teenager, and you have a different
attitude toward life and toward yourself. Depending on your
answer to the question of age, does the success of your
program with an older population give any clues. Do you
have suggestions for how to start earlier with the inmate?
DR. ANNE PIEHL:
Youre right that age is highly correlated with recidivism
and that older people who are ex-offenders are much less
likely to recidivate, so thats part of what makes
it possible for Amy to work with her population. At the
same time, being gone that long leads to a lot of decay
and, in addition, understanding of the technological world
that they are coming out into. Some of the approaches that
she has developed could work with the younger population
but might need to be modified.
MS. AMY KROLL:
People ask why our recidivism rate is so low. I always answer
that the guy cant mug his neighbor and run down the
block as fast anymore! But they do come back to worlds that
have changed. One man was released after thirty-three years,
and I continually had to pull him away from walking into
telephone poles, because he would be just staring at people
talking on cell phones. He was just so amazed. He kept on
saying to me, everybody is on the phone all day. We have
been working with our Board of Probation and Parole because
we are tired of the mentally ill maxing out. Their fear
of mental illness does not mean that they should turn down
somebodys parole plan. We are learning what an appropriate
home plan looks like that will work with all twenty-six
institutions, the internal parole officers. Then well
write home plans for people coming back for Allegheny County.
MR. HOWARD HUSOCK:
If they have maxed out, the state has nothing on them anymore,
MS. AMY KROLL:
Right, they just walk out the door.
DR. LAWRENCE MEAD:
It is an outstanding program, and I congratulate you on
it. At the same time, it does seem to be peripheral to the
main reentry problem. Most of the people who leave prison,
as I understand it, are less impaired, younger, and come
out under parole authority, so the structure of their readjustment
is subject to supervision. Also, theres usually greater
focus on employment than there is in your program, though
its an aspect of your program. Looking at that mainstream
population, what do you think is useful to them? Thats
the main challenge that society faces.
MS. AMY KROLL:
I met with all fifty supervisors in Allegheny County as
well as a large number of parole officers last week. I told
them that they hold some of the responsibility to decide
whether these people come in or come out. Everybody has
to report to the parole officer within forty-eight hours
out of prison. We told the parole officer that we are tired
of them wanting to lock people up and throw away the key.
We said that they hold a responsibility to their neighborhoods
and their safety. Some important questions that we need
to ask our clients who are coming out are: When is your
intake appointment for your mental health? Have you gone
to the welfare office? Do you have the appropriate paperwork?
We pointed fingers at one another about who is responsible
for what. There are certain questions that the parole officers
are willing to ask, and if those questions dont get
answered correctly, theyre willing to contact our
office to start that ball rolling.
By the same token, the parole officers know nothing about
jobs or where to get them. When these people come back to
our neighborhoods and fail, its our cars that are
getting stolen. We are having a job fair with employers
and the parole officers, so that our clients have cards,
names, and numbers. We thought the only way to reduce recidivism,
especially with young guys coming out, is to start arming
the parole officers. They told us that they were not going
to become social workers. We insisted that they at least
learn to ask the right questions and do their job. They
think their job is: if this guy gets out of line, Im
just going to throw him back in jail. But we explained to
them that when that guy gets out of line, somebody from
the public gets hurt. If parole officers consider themselves
public safety officers, they must start performing the necessary
The meeting became rowdy, but when they agreed to start
exchanging ideas and information, what came out was an agreement
that theyre going to ask certain questions, but were
coming up with the important questions. When they get information,
theyll call our office. Also, were going to
give parole officers better ways to help clients find the
employment they need that first week theyre out. That
first week is such a critical time.
MR. HOWARD HUSOCK:
So its similar to police officers reunderstanding
their role: not just to catch the bad guys but also to prevent
I would assume that many of the people who are released
from prison with severe mental illness are on medications.
How do you ensure that they continue to take their medications?
What kind of legal authority do you have to ensure it? And
who pays for these medications once they leave? If they
stop taking these drugs, the problems escalate dramatically,
so I would think that drug therapy would be fundamental
to any kind of comprehensive solution to the problem.
MS. AMY KROLL:
Basically, theres no comprehensive policy. People
ask us what they have to do to get into this program, and
we reply that they just have to stay in their mental health
treatment and stay on their medications. Many times, clients
go off their medications. We take them back to the mental
health clinic and tell them, If you want to go off
your meds, or you want to start to titrate them down, you
need to get permission from your psychiatrist. But
most of them know that in order to receive our services
and to work with us, they have to follow their service plan,
which means that they have to stay on their medications.
We have no power over them; all we have is the ability to
try to help them recover their lives, which includes figuring
out their medication. Were not doctors or nurses.
We just say to them, In order to receive our services,
youve got to stay on your meds and go to your treatment.
DR. ANNE PIEHL:
One of the most important things that their program has
done is eliminate any gap from the moment of release to
provision of services. All of this in-reach and preparing
beforehand means there isnt a forty-eight-hour gap,
which could be devastating with regard to medical therapy.
Tightening up those time frames is one of the most important
things theyve done, and I think other agencies could
benefit from that, too.