As referenced by President Barack Obama in his speech on U.S. incarceration rates, a 2013 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics notes that the United States spent over $80 billion on corrections expenditures in 2010. More than 90 percent of these expenditures occurred at the state and local levels. Because of those large expenditures, many places have begun reducing prison capacity. In 2013, approximately six states closed or considered closing a few of their correctional facilities. But what are they supposed to do with these vacated buildings? How could they repurpose the facilities in an economically sustainable manner?
In New York State, the Osborne Association believes it has a viable a solution. Noting that “close to 10,000 [men and women] are under Bronx (NY) probation supervision,” Fernando Martinez, Fulton project director for the Osborne Association, is leading the redevelopment of the Fulton Correctional Facility, one of the minimum security prisons closed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, in an effort to transform it from a place of despair for former inmates to a place of hope. The Osborne Association is working with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC) to help make this change.
Creating a Sustainable Reentry Program
The 106-year-old building at 1511 Fulton Avenue in the Bronx has undergone a number of transformations through the years; it has been everything from an Episcopal Church to a YMCA to a correctional facility. But in January 2015, New York State handed the Osborne Association the title to the building and the chance to repurpose it once more as the Fulton Economic Development and Community Reentry Center. Fulton will provide workforce development, transitional housing, and reentry programs to help individuals better integrate into the local Bronx communities they call home. The economic reentry support provided at Fulton combined with the emotional support individuals will receive from being near their families in the Bronx is intended to create a long-term reduction in recidivism.
“BJA is committed to support the work of the Osborne Association in this transformational project to convert a former state prison into a full service re-entry center and beacon of hope for the community,” said Denise O’Donnell, Director of BJA.
Although New York State and New York City have committed approximately $9.7 million in capital funds to assist with the facility’s renovations, establishing funding for housing and programmatic services remains a concern.
Recognizing that strategic planning is key to creating a sustainable, efficient reentry support center, the Osborne Association reached to BJA NTTAC for assistance to create a comprehensive service plan for Fulton. BJA NTTAC coordinated the Osborne Association’s work with Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), an organization that facilitates the revitalization of neighborhoods.
Through a series of community conversations and workshops, the Osborne Association and LISC developed a better understanding of the local community’s strengths, challenges, and areas of opportunity. As a result of these interactions with the community, the Osborne Association was able to identify which community resources should be located in the transformed space. According to its Executive Vice President for Program Operations John Valverde, the Osborne Association is actively looking for like-minded partners and “…nonprofits that can provide workforce, counseling, legal assistance, and educational training services in the facility.”
While questions still remain and the organization works on resolving long-term funding concerns, the Osborne Association continues to move forward with other aspects of the transformation project—the Osborne Association recently hired an architect and is the early stages of redesigning the facility. With construction slated to begin early 2016, Valverde is optimistic that the new Fulton will be a place of second chances.
“There is a huge need in terms of people being released,” Valverde stated. “They often don’t have connections to the services and support that are so vital to successful reentry and there are very few resources like this.”
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