Program Goals/Target Population
Community and Law Enforcement Resources Together (ComALERT) is a reentry program in Brooklyn, N.Y., that provides substance abuse treatment, employment, and housing services for parolees transitioning from prison back into the community. The goal of the program is to reduce recidivism of parolees by providing them with the tools and support they need to remain drug-free, crime-free, and employed.
Parolees are eligible to participate in ComALERT if they are:
· Paroled to Brooklyn and have at least 6 months remaining of supervision
· At least 18 years old
· In need of substance abuse treatment
Parolees are not eligible if they are a convicted sex offender or arsonist or suffer from a serious and persistent mental illness. Most program participants are on parole for either a drug crime or a crime of violence, such as robbery, assault, and homicide.
ComALERT services begin for parolees almost immediately upon release from prison. An inmate released from prison has 24 to 48 hours from release to report to the New York State Division of Parole, which is the primary source of program referrals. The parole officer may decide to refer a parolee to the division’s Access Center, based on a prerelease assessment need for treatment. At the center, a ComALERT–certified alcohol and substance abuse counselor (CASAC) works on site to streamline the referral process. The CASAC administers a psychological assessment that asks about parolees’ past activities and future goals.
After the assessment, parolees are directed to the ComALERT Reentry Center in downtown Brooklyn, where they go through program orientation and are assigned to a social worker. Social workers are primarily responsible for helping participants to comply with conditional release requirements, which include substance abuse treatment and employment. All ComALERT participants receive nonintensive, outpatient substance abuse treatment. Program participants are required to attend individual therapy sessions with their primary counselor once per week, as well as weekly group treatment sessions. For most participants, the program last between 3 and 6 months.
In addition to receiving substance abuse treatment, ComALERT participants are also referred to the “Ready, Willing, & Able” (RWA) program, which provides transitional employment opportunities, transitional housing, vocational training, and 12-step meetings, as well as courses on financial management and other life skills over a 9-month period. The program offers full-time manual labor work through the Community Improvement Project, a jobs program run by the RWA. RWA participants begin to immediately receive a weekly stipend for their work, while a portion of the money they earn is put into a mandatory savings account. Through case management and mentoring services, as well as vocational training in fields such as pest control, commercial driving, and food service, the program also provides assistance in finding a permanent job. The RWA program further provides courses to prepare for the General Educational Development test (or GED), computer/literacy classes, and individual tutoring. Participants receive meals and other services at the Doe Fund facility (RWA’s parent organization), and can also temporarily stay at a living facility (called the Stuyvesant House) if they are in need of housing. The RWA program has a zero-tolerance policy on substance abuse. Participants are administered random drug tests, and if they test positive, they are discharged from the program.
The final component of the ComALERT program is service referral. Program participants are referred to a variety of service providers, such as organizations that provide housing, vocational programs, and job readiness services. Participants can also be referred to organizations that help them enroll in government programs, such as Medicaid.
ComALERT staff works closely with the Division of Parole to monitor participants throughout the time they remain in the program. If a participant is in noncompliance with program requirements, the parole officer is informed of the violation. A law enforcement sanction, such as parole revocation, can be used at the discretion of the parole officer. For less serious violations, other sanctions, such as more frequent drug testing, can also be used. In order to graduate from the ComALERT program, participants must be drug-free for 3 months and either employed or in school.
The Kings County District Attorney’s office began the ComALERT program in 1999 as a way to bring together District Attorney staff, community-based organizations, and service providers. The collaboration also includes the Counseling Service of Eastern District New York (or CSEDNY), the New York State Division of Parole, and the Doe’s Fund, Inc., which runs the RWA program.
The ComALERT program does not require participants to have medical insurance (uninsured participants receive treatment that is paid for by a grant from the New York State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services). This allows all participants to begin receiving substance abuse treatment almost immediately after release from prison.