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New York Court Eases Return into Community After Prison

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  • Judge Raymond Lohier, Jr., of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, congratulates RISE Court graduate Stanley Downey during a special ceremony.

    Judge Raymond Lohier, Jr., of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, congratulates RISE Court graduate Stanley Downey during a special ceremony.



  • From left to right, Probation Officers Elisha Rivera and Lauren Blackford, RISE Court graduates Michael Lewis and Vincent Hernandez, and Magistrate Judge James L. Cott, of the Southern District of New York.

    From left to right, Probation Officers Elisha Rivera and Lauren Blackford, RISE Court graduates Michael Lewis and Vincent Hernandez, and Magistrate Judge James L. Cott, of the Southern District of New York.


Federal judges and court staff in Manhattan recently celebrated two dozen individuals’ successful transition back into the community after prison, thanks to a specialized program to help high-risk former offenders maintain crime-free lives.  

The yearlong journey for those under supervision in the Reentry through Intensive Supervision and Employment Court (RISE Court) program culminated in a special graduation ceremony in June. Speakers noted that the graduates fulfilled their obligations during the height of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Throughout this trying year, our graduates exhibited admirable courage, commitment, and perseverance – the courage to reconnect with their families and friends, the commitment to improve themselves, and the perseverance to find jobs, housing, and health programs during a worldwide pandemic,” said Judge Raymond Lohier, Jr., of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, who presided over a RISE Court during much of the pandemic. “We commend them for succeeding despite the many unusual obstacles and hardships they faced. I personally couldn’t be prouder of their achievement.” 

Graduates were joined by family, friends, members of the RISE Court initiative ­– and even some of their sentencing judges – to finally celebrate their achievements with a proper gathering.

The RISE Court, launched in January 2019, has three cohorts each presided over by federal judges. It is part of an effort to reduce recidivism among people on supervised release through initiatives that encourage employment and self-awareness.

“The RISE Court is a way for our district to more deeply engage with its supervised release population and to provide resources and support that will help reduce recidivism,” said Michael Fitzpatrick, chief probation officer for the Southern District of New York. “By reducing recidivism, we will keep families together, and we will keep our communities safer.”

According to the probation office, roughly 20 percent of moderate and high-risk individuals on supervised release are unemployed, and 70 percent of the supervisees with the greatest risk of recidivism end up with their terms of supervised release revoked, often from rearrest.

Participants in the RISE Court are offered several services to help them succeed, including cognitive behavioral therapy, mentorships, a financial literacy program, and pro bono legal assistance. Upon completion of the program, probation officers typically recommend that a participant’s sentencing judge reduce the term of supervised release. 

To graduate, participants must appear before a RISE Court judge every two weeks for approximately a year to discuss their living and employment situations, legal and financial issues, and their progress on completing a behavioral wellness program. Before each session, the judge meets with the participant’s probation officer, a coordinator, and representatives of service providers to discuss the participant’s progress. Members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Federal Defenders Office also attend the sessions.

“Obtaining and maintaining employment is an essential part of re-entering society after imprisonment. We hope to help participants develop meaningful ties to the community,” said Judge Denny Chin of Second Circuit Court of Appeals, who presided over the first RISE Court.

Other federal court districts have introduced similar programs to help people stay out of prison. The program in Southern New York was largely inspired by a successful reentry court program in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Related Topics: Probation and Pretrial Services

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