There are state regulations regarding where state prisoners go when they are released from prison and have no home to go to. If the prisoner is prosecuted in Sullivan County and is homeless upon release, then the prisoner enters the county’s Department of Community Services system.
But Legislator Cindy Gieger, working on the issue for over a year along with colleagues such as legislator Cora Edwards, discovered that the county was getting more than its share of homeless prisoners, many of whom have serious mental health issues.
In an interview at the government center on March 7, Gieger said she discovered that the Liberty Police Department gets a list of homeless people who have been released from prisons into Sullivan County from the New York State Division of Parole, so that the police can be aware of who is coming into the county.
In going over the list from 2011, she noticed that the homeless releases were coming from prisons all over the state, even though they had varying previous addresses such as Rochester, Bronx, New Jersey and Ohio. The discharge documents also listed the future address for many of the prisoners as 10 Community Lane in Liberty, which is part of the human services complex.
Enlisting the aid of county attorney Sam Yasgur, she discovered that a recommendation from the state commissioner of parole could also determine the location of release for homeless prisoners. Gieger said that in 2011, 90 prisoners were released into the county and only 16 had been prosecuted in Sullivan County; the reason the prisoners were released in the county is presumably because of a recommendation by the state.
Gieger said, “I don’t think Sullivan County was uniquely being identified as a location to release these prisoners to, but my feeling is that other counties were pushing back, and I felt that we needed to set up a meeting with the commissioner of parole and inform him that we are not equipped to take more than 70 releases in a year, because we don’t have the housing. We’re struggling currently with our homeless housing situation; we put them up in hotels at a tremendous cost. We don’t have public transportation so even if you wanted to transition people into the job market, how are they going to get around?”
Earlier in the day, Yasgur said the New York State Division of Parole had agreed to an interview.
Some of those prisoners ultimately end up in adult homes in Sullivan County and, in a related development, Joe Tedora, director of the Department of Community Service, said that a new rule has been created by the New York State Department of Health (DOH) regarding adult homes in some counties, including Sullivan. The rule requires that group homes with 80 or more beds not have a population that consists of more than 25% of residents who have a serious mental illness.
Tedora said, “At present time, we project that about 77% of all people in adult homes have a serious mental illness.”
The rule goes into effect in mid May. Adult homes that are impacted, which are the Narrowsburg Home for Adults and the Arcadia Residence in Liberty, must submit a plan to the DOH about coming into compliance. If, after “a reasonable time,” they have not come into compliance, they may be fined $2,000 per month per mentally ill resident beyond the 25% limit.
Tedora said the residents are supposed to be released into a facility that can meet their needs, which prompted Gene Benson to say, “Explain that to the people who were affected when they closed down the Middletown Psychiatric Center, explain that to the people when they closed down all the centers around the state, when they closed down Dannemora State Hospital; they put them out on the street.”
Tedora said, “Quite frankly, I believe the reason the state has started to slow-step this process is they realized they don’t have the community capacity to take these folks out of the adult homes.”