Editorial Board

New York state measure to give former inmates new start in public housing should be welcomed

The Syracuse Housing Authority is one of three public housing authorities in New York state that will host a pilot program to help former inmates live in public housing. The program has legitimate potential to help New Yorkers with convictions better adjust to life after prison and reintegrate into society.

New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press release that stable housing “drastically reduces” a former inmate’s risk of recidivism, or the tendency of a convicted criminal to make another offense.

The pilot program, which will also be conducted in Schenectady and White Plains, will reunite former inmates with their families in public housing. Families are vital support systems to people who either may be prone to recidivism or who need a foundation to become a functional and productive citizen.

It is often difficult for those who have recently been released from prison to obtain employment, so to be able to depend on public housing when income is uncertain would help the adjustment between a life in prison and a life outside it.

Considering there aren’t many major cities in New York, it’s admirable that the Syracuse Housing Authority recognized the pilot program could gain traction in Syracuse: a city with a decent population, a relatively weak economy and a lagging workforce. The program has the potential to help people get back on their feet.

There are safety concerns in putting people with convictions into public housing, especially in areas of Syracuse that see a significant deal of gang activity. The release from Cuomo’s office pointed to a 2016 study by the Vera Institute that showed none of the 85 individuals who participated in a similar program in New York City were convicted of a new crime since their enrollment. But the state should be careful about making too many decisions based on a sample size of 85 people.

In respect to the pilot program’s safety, the state Department of Correction and Community Supervision will monitor program participants through their parole officers and partake in home visits on a “normal course of supervision” and any time the respective housing authority requests a home visit, according to the release.

Federally-funded public housing authorities — which includes all those in New York state — by law have the discretion to screen housing applicants with past criminalized behavior, excluding sex offenders and methamphetamine producers, according to the release.

But “many authorities refuse to give applicants this fair assessment,” which can cause former inmates who pose little threat to society to be separated from living with their families and “forced into unstable housing and homelessness,” according to the release.

Despite the potential safety concerns associated with the pilot program, public housing has the ability to serve as a bridge between being an inmate and being a functional member of society.

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