Cindi McEachon has traveled to jails and prisons across New York State to talk with inmates about their experience behind bars.
“I have met individuals who can tell me,” she said. “Down to the second, how long they were incarcerated. Because that’s the focus when you’re in; getting out.”
As the Executive Director of PeacePrints Western New York, McEachon’s goal is to provide a link to services on the outside for people at the end of their journey through the state prison system. A system which overwhelming houses Black and Brown bodies.
McEachon echoes many criminal justice reformers when she said former inmates are often ill-prepared to re-enter society after a lengthy prison sentence.
“But what you know on the outside is a memory,” she said. “Because worlds change. Our world moves at a rapid, rapid-fire pace and in the facility, it doesn’t. It’s very slow, it’s very routine and that is intentional in how it operates. It’s almost a thoughtless environment.”
For people released on parole in New York State, access to re-entry programs is key to avoiding the pitfalls of recidivism. With PeacePrints, McEachon is trying to stem the tide of recidivism in the state. New York has the second highest recidivism rate in the country.
“At this point I can’t snap my fingers and release the four and a half million people under supervision and provide positive services,” she said. “But if I can at least, within our bubble, ensure that individuals released back to Erie County are afforded access and equitable opportunity to find success, then that’s what we’re going to do.”
Using drugs and alcohol in violation of parole guidelines is a typical way for a parolee to land back in jail.
“Rico” for years struggled with substance problems but as of February of 2020, said he is clean due in large part to the services provided to him while on parole. He asked that his real name not be used to protect his privacy.
“I don’t do that today,” he said. “Today I go to outpatient treatment and I am highly involved- I go at least four to five days a week.”
He also has several support groups that he visits often, including Save the Michaels, a drug addiction awareness organization and Horizon Health Services, an addiction rehab and mental health service organization.
“I go to three meetings, just in my home group,” he said. “Not to mention I hit a meeting every day, one, two- sometimes two meetings a day. So, I just stay highly in tuned now with my recovery.”
With the success of people like Rico it stands that a push for an even more comprehensive and rehabilitative approach to post-release supervision would make sense.
One of the provisions of the Less is More Act, which currently sits in committee in the state legislature, is eliminating drug and alcohol screenings, with the belief that parolees who do use skip parole officer meetings for fear of being found out and sent back to jail.
New Yorkers United for Justice is a reform coalition that launched state-wide public education campaign on parole reform this year. NYUJ’s Executive Director Alexander Horwitz said the coalition has focused on several bills they believe can voted on in the coming years.
“Each of which tackles a specific facet of the parole system,” he said. “From the governance of the parole board to the final outcomes of people who are on parole, that we believe if they are passed, will represent not just an improvement to the system but the complete transformation of the parole system.”
One of those bills, S2059, requires the parole board to grant a parole release to an inmate who has successfully participated in a temporary release program for two years uninterrupted, prior to an appearance before the board.
The bill currently sits in the Crime Victims and Crime and Corrections committees. Add this with the Less is More Act, and reformers say meaningful legislation is now on the books.