Providing a link to the community

Edgecombe Correctional Facility

Edgecombe is nestled in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, home to the Algonquian Indians until the 1626 sale of the island led to farms replacing the wilderness. Wealthy merchants eventually began building estates in the area in the 1800s, stately edifices which remained for more than a century. It became home to working class immigrants from Western Europe, followed by more recent migrations from Cuba, Puerto Rico and South America. Housed in a facility that once met the medical needs of the community, Edgecombe now addresses the social needs of inmates preparing to rejoin New York City's communities.

With the passage of time, the persona of the area was to change again. In the 1920's and 1930's, the area surrounding Edgecombe was rapidly developed to provide housing for working class families, many of whom had just arrived in this country from overseas. In the 1920's the demographics were primarily Irish Catholic. In the 1930's and 1940's the demographics changed, with Jewish immigrants arriving in droves from Germany and Austria. In the 1940's and the 1950's the demographics changed once again, as a large Puerto Rican community became established in the area. In the 1950's Cubans moved into Washington Heights followed by Dominicans in the 1970's, as it remains today.

Different missions in bygone eras

Edgecombe, at 611 Edgecombe Ave. between 163rd and 164th Streets, was built in 1936 as Mother Cabrini Hospital. It remained a community hospital until 1966, when it was converted by the state into a drug rehabilitation center.

The drug rehabilitation facility opened on April 1, 1967. It was known as the Edgecombe Rehabilitation Center, which operated under the auspices of the state's Narcotics Addiction Control Commission (NACC). NACC was created to curb heroin use and drug trafficking and was New York's way of addressing the ongoing problem with drugs that had started to rise in the 1950's. Placement at the center was optional. Drug users were afforded hearings at Edgecombe which were conducted by the NACC. Violators were given the choice of entering the drug rehabilitation center or serving a jail/prison sentence.

NACC rehabilitation centers were staffed by civilian treatment personnel and narcotics Correction Officers who wore civilian clothing. Edgecombe residential clients were involved in full-time programming designed to break their drug habits and prepare them for a law-abiding return to their communities. Programs included automobile and television repair shops. Educational programs, job placement and recreational activities were also available. In the 1970's, the state began to phase out its NACC facilities. In 1974, Edgecombe became a prison.

Providing the tools to succeed

Edgecombe is classified as a minimum-security correctional facility for male inmates aged 16 and older. The facility provides for work release, day reporting and community residential treatment programming. Edgecombe was first accredited by the American Correctional Association in 1991, affirming that it meets and in many cases exceeds acceptable industry standards in all facets of its daily operations. The facility was most recently accredited in 2003. It will seek to be re-accredited in 2006.

Edgecombe's principal function is to provide inmates nearing their release with a physical, motivational and supportive setting for meaningful work, educational release and substance abuse programs. The vast majority of Edgecombe's inmates are within or in close proximity to the communities in which they plan to reside upon release. Edgecombe's mission, like that of the Department's other work release facilities, is to serve as a bridge between incarceration and success on the outside. The thrust of the programs at Edgecombe is on individual and family counseling and upgrading marketable job skills and personal abilities. And thanks to the continued dedication and diligence of staff, licensed treatment personnel and volunteers from the local community, it's a mission that has been successful since the facility accepted its first inmates in 1974.

Edgecombe has an in-house bed capacity of 413. DOCS also has a contract for an additional 100 beds at Phoenix House in the Bronx. Inmates housed there are on Edgecombe's count. Phoenix House provides a residential drug treatment program with Edgecombe that entails a variety of support systems like medical services, individual and group counseling and education on the dynamics of addiction.

The Phoenix House program is considered vital in the successful rehabilitation of chemically-addicted inmates. And that's a key when one considers that 82 percent of Edgecombe's inmates, as of late last year,were incarcerated for drug offenses.

Before being transferred to Edgecombe to continue to participate in the Department's Comprehensive Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment (CASAT) program, the inmates must complete an initial six-month phase of treatment at Marcy.

That treatment program in central New York is also overseen by Phoenix House staff. After that program, the inmates are sent on to Phase II at the Phoenix House program in the Bronx, which also lasts six months.

Upon successful completion of the Phoenix House program at Phelan Place, the inmates are transferred to Edgecombe. There, they will continue participation in the work release program, where they will remain until paroled.

While in work release, inmates at Phoenix House participate in its outpatient program located on Northern Boulevard in Long Island City. Participants start with three meetings a week in an effort to ensure a continuum of care. As they progress, the number of meetings they are required to attend is reduced.

The Department's temporary release programs, which include work release, have proven to be a cost-effective means of housing select non-violent felony offenders in a secure environment without jeopardizing community safety.

The primary mandate of the Department's temporary release programs is to transition inmates from prisons to the streets by enabling them to obtain gainful employment and find residences during their incarceration.

In that regard, Edgecombe has forged close ties with a variety of community-based agencies to find jobs for its inmates. One of them is Wildcat Services, an outside contractor paid to provide job development and placement for the facility's inmates. Wildcat staff meets with inmates during their orientation phase upon arrival at Edgecombe. Their goal is to enroll the inmates in their job placement program. Wildcat Services has a performance-based contract with Edgecombe, which means the company is paid according to the number of inmates it enrolls and places in jobs.

More than just the inmates benefit when they are placed in work release jobs, where inmates pay taxes and prison boarding fees to offset the cost of their incarceration. The inmates are learning a valuable work ethic by showing up to their jobs on time each day and taking pride in their work. They are also learning valuable job skills that will help provide for themselves and their families.

The Department's temporary release programs have indeed proven to be successful. Repeated studies by New York, other jurisdictions and outside agencies have confirmed that inmates who successfully participate in these programs return to prison at lower rates than those who have not.

Also playing a role in the lower recidivism rate: Work release tends to make inmates more financially stable at the time of their release than inmates who did not participate in the program. Most have also been able to develop a broad-based community support system during the time they're out of the prison, and hopefully permanent employment. Many inmates who have participated in the Department's temporary release program call it "a second chance at life."

To be eligible to participate in the temporary release program, inmates must be within 24 months of earliest release eligibility. They also must have never been convicted of absconding or escape offenses; have no outstanding warrants, and be physically, mentally and emotionally capable of seeking and maintaining steady, gainful employment. Participants also cannot be convicted of a homicide, sex crime or most other violent felonies.

Under temporary release, eligible inmates may be granted the privilege of leaving their respective facility for a period not exceeding 14 hours a day, with the exception of those inmates who may be on furloughs. Inmates assigned to temporary release participate in work release, educational release, furlough and a rehabilitation therapy program.

The majority of Edgecombe's inmates, like inmates at other similar facilities, are assigned to work release. Work release inmates typically work 40 hours a week. On their off hours, they do what any average New Yorker would do. They attend self-help meetings and counseling sessions in their continuing efforts to get their lives on track, seek a job, go to school, church or run errands.

They also return to the facility at night to attend programming under the oversight of staff and community volunteers.

While there are no structured programs at Edgecombe, AA and NA meetings, HIV/AIDS counseling sessions and Prison Ministries Fellowship seminars are regularly provided to the facility's inmates.

Inmates who are assigned to work release see Social Security payments as well as federal and state income taxes withheld from their paychecks, like any other wage earner. The net earnings for work release inmates totaled $5,765,851 in 2003 and they paid $1,724,166 in taxes. They also paid $2,162,906 in room and board charges and saved $3,289,200 to help provide for themselves and their families. They also paid $313,744 in family support, reducing the need for or the amount of public assistance.

Inmate wages earned through an inmate's outside employment must be surrendered to facility staff, who then deposits them into the inmate's account. Money the inmates accumulate in their accounts allows them to begin transitioning into the community, often a step ahead of other inmates from non-work release facilities.

Inmates aren't the only winners under the Department's restructured temporary release program. Communities throughout the state have also benefited thanks to Governor Pataki's 1995 Executive Order that barred from temporary release any inmates convicted of committing violent acts.

Making an impact in the local community

Unlike many other minimum- and medium-security facilities throughout the state, Edgecombe no longer offers any supervised community service crews to work on behalf of area communities and not-for-profit organizations. Nonetheless, Washington Heights residents and those New Yorkers who live in the surrounding neighborhoods have come to regard the prison as a welcomed and appreciated neighbor, someone who consistently helps out in a time of need.

Security and civilian staff members at the facility have joined forces to contribute significantly to the New York City community over the years. Since 1994, staff members have been involved in an ongoing project to feed the hungry and homeless in neighborhoods throughout Manhattan. The idea was developed when several staff members noticed all the hungry and homeless people in local neighborhoods as they traveled to and from work each day and decided to try to do something to alleviate the problem. They discussed ways of having a positive impact on these needy individuals besides giving them money, which wasn't only used strictly for food. After much brainstorming, the employees decided to provide the area's needy with free meals once a month. Initially, the employees provided the needy with sandwiches and cold drinks. Later, the menu was expanded to include chili and rice or spaghetti with meat sauce and a cold drink.

In this project, the employees meet with inmate volunteers on a Saturday morning to prepare the meals for distribution later that day. No state funds are involved; all the food for this endeavor is donated by Edgecombe staff.

The usual sites where food is delivered in the Manhattan community include a park located at 52nd Street and 10th Avenue; the St. Nicholas Hotel at 155th Street and Nicholas Avenue; amen's shelter near 42nd Street and 9thAvenue; a park located at 9th Street and 12thAvenue, and Tompkins Square Park from 7th to 10th Streets between Avenues A and B.

Depending on need and the amount of food prepared by staff volunteers and inmates, Edgecombe employees may also scour other Manhattan neighborhoods until all the freshly-prepared meals and accompanying beverages have been distributed. On a typical Saturday, as many as 150 meals and beverages are given out by Edgecombe employees to needy New Yorkers.

The facility also takes part in other community-oriented projects like the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Food Drive and Make a Difference Day (MADD) projects to help out the needy in the community. For its 2002 MADD activities, Edgecombe elected to recognize homeless people with mental illnesses by donating non-perishable food items and used but decent clothing to an agency involved in assisting those types of individuals. The Corner House, a part of the Goddard Riverside Community Center located at 131 Edgecombe Avenue, was the site chosen to receive the donated food and clothing items for eventual distribution to the needy.

"Our employees here at Edgecombe have always gone above and beyond when it comes to helping the needy and for that all of us in this Department are grateful," said Edgecombe Superintendent Eduardo Nieves. "They epitomize the family that is corrections and their dedication has helped hundreds in local Manhattan neighborhoods over the years."

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Article is from DOCS TODAY March 2004