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Program Profile: Community and Law Enforcement Resources Together (ComALERT)

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on June 10, 2011

Program Summary

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 program is rated Promising. Participants were less likely to be rearrested, reconvicted, or reincarcerated than the matched control group. They had a higher employment rate, but there was no statistical difference in reincarceration by parole violation, co-residence and contact with children, or drug and alcohol use.

Program Description

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.

 

Program Components

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.

 

Key Personnel

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.

 

Additional Information

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.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1

Jacobs and Western (2007) examined the recidivism rates between Community and Law Enforcement Resources Together (ComALERT) participants and a matched control group, and found statistically significant and nonsignificant treatment effects on several outcome measures.

 

Rearrest

The results of the life tables showed that ComALERT attendees were less likely to be rearrested than the matched control group members. During the first 2 years after release from prison, 29.3 percent of ComALERT graduates and 39.2 percent of ComALERT attendees were rearrested, compared to 47.6 percent of control group members, a significant difference. Attendees were 18 percent less likely to be rearrested and graduates were 39 percent less likely to be rearrested than controls.

 

The hazard regression analysis (or multivaried analysis) found that, controlling for race, age, gender, and criminal history, ComALERT attendees, regardless of graduate status, had a significantly lower risk of being rearrested. Attendees had a 22.9 percent lower risk of being rearrested than matched control group members. When differentiating between ComALERT graduates and discharges (i.e., noncompleters), program graduates had a 45.7 percent lower risk of being rearrested than matched control group members, a statistically significant difference after 2 years. However, ComALERT discharges did not differ significantly from controls, meaning there was no evidence that the two groups differed in the likelihood of rearrest.

 

Reconviction

ComALERT attendees and graduates were also less likely to be reconvicted. After 2 years, 27.8 percent of ComALERT attendees had been reconvicted, compared to 34.2 percent of control group members. Attendees were 19 percent less likely to be reconvicted than controls, although this difference did not reach statistical significance. About 19 percent of ComALERT graduates were reconvicted, compared to 34.2 percent of control group members. Compared to controls, graduates were 45 percent less likely to be reconvicted within 2 years.

 

The hazard regression analysis found that after 2 years, ComALERT attendees had a 22.7 percent lower risk of being reconvicted than matched control group members. ComALERT graduates had a 50.7 percent lower risk of being reconvicted on a new charge of any severity than did matched controls, a significant difference. There was no significant difference in the risk of reconviction between discharges and controls, however.

 

Reincarceration by Parole Violation

The reincarceration rates of ComALERT attendees for parole violations did not differ significantly from matched control group members throughout the 2-year period. However, ComALERT graduates were significantly less likely than attendees and controls to return to prison due to a parole violation. After 2 years, 15.7 percent of ComALERT graduates had been reincarcerated, compared to 24.5 percent of all ComALERT attendees and 23.8 percent of control group members.

 

The results of the hazard regression analysis showed there was no significant difference between ComALERT participants and matched control group members, suggesting that attending the program did not affect a parolee’s likelihood of returning to prison due to a parole violation. When the analysis differentiates between ComALERT graduates and discharge, the results showed graduates had a significantly lower risk of reincarceration, while discharges had a significantly higher risk of reincarceration by parole violation compared to control group members. Graduates had a 44 percent lower risk, while discharges had an 83.5 percent higher risk of returning to prison.

 

Reincarceration by New Sentence

The probability of being reincarcerated for a new sentence was low for all three groups. After 2 years, 2.8 percent of ComALERT graduates, 4.3 percent of all ComALERT attendees, and 6.5 percent of matched controls had been sent back to prison on a new sentence. None of these differences are statistically significant, however.

 

The hazard regression analysis found that ComALERT attendees were no less likely than control group members to return to prison on a new sentence. Although ComALERT graduates did have a 66.7 percent lower risk of reincarceration, program discharges had no significant difference in risk of a new sentence to prison compared to controls.

 

Any Reincarceration

Since most of the reincarceration experienced by study participants occurred because of parole violations, the total reincarceration results closely resemble the reincarceration by parole violation results. ComALERT graduates were significantly less likely to be reincarcerated than ComALERT attendees and control group members. However, attendees as a whole did not have a significant difference in reincarceration rates from the matched controls. After 2 years, 18.4 percent of graduates were returned to prison for any reason, compared to 28.7 percent of all attendees and 29.9 percent of controls.

 

The result of the hazard regression analysis found there was no significant difference between ComALERT attendees and matched control group members on the risk of returning to prison for any reason. Distinguishing between ComALERT graduates and discharges, the analysis found that graduates had a significantly lower risk of reincarceration (49.3 percent lower) and discharges had a significantly higher risk (73.5 percent) than controls.

 

Employment and Earning

The analysis looked at three estimates of group differences of employment: the unadjusted estimate, the regression adjusted estimate, and the matching estimates. All three methods found that the ComALERT survey respondents had an employment rate that was about 50 percent higher than the control group. ComALERT participants also earned more money each week than those working in the control group. The analysis also took into account the effect of the Ready, Willing, & Able (RWA) program, which provides employment opportunities to ComALERT participants. RWA participants had a 90 percent employment rate, which exceeds the ComALERT average by 15 points and exceeds the employment rate for control group members by nearly 70 points.

 

Co-Residence and Contact With Children

All three estimates of the group differences found that the rates of marriage and cohabitation were not significantly different between ComALERT survey respondents and control group survey respondents. The rates differed by only a few percentage points. ComALERT parents were slightly more involved with their children than control group parents, but the difference was not statistically significant.

 

Drug and Alcohol Use

Again, all three estimates of group differences found no statistically significant difference in self-reported drug and alcohol use in the 6 months before incarceration and in the 30 days prior to the survey interview.

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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1

Jacobs and Western (2007) examined the effectiveness of the Community and Law Enforcement Resources Together (ComALERT) program in Brooklyn, N.Y., by comparing the differences in outcome measures between program participants and a matched group of parolees who did not participate in the program.

 

The study employed propensity score matching to create a control group of New York City parolees with characteristics that closely matched those of the treatment group. The ComALERT treatment group (n= 448) and matched control group (n= 448) were both almost entirely male (98 percent), and 79 percent African American, 19 percent Hispanic, and 2 percent white, with an average age of 33 years. There were no significant differences between the groups.

 

The analysis looked at two different treatment effects: ComALERT graduate treatment effects and ComALERT attendee treatment effects. ComALERT graduates (n= 243) were those participants who attended and successfully completed the program. ComALERT attendees (n= 448) include all participants who were officially admitted into the program, whether they successfully completed the program or not (ComALERT graduates and ComALERT discharges).

 

The outcome measures of interest included recidivism, substance abuse, employment, and family relations. Recidivism was measured in five different ways: rearrest, reconviction, reincarceration by parole violation, reincarceration by new sentence, and any reincarceration. Data on the criminal histories of every person released to parole in New York City between Oct. 1, 2004, and Oct. 1, 2006, was collected from the Criminal History Data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS). Information was provided on arrests, convictions, incarceration periods, parole periods, probation periods, and demographic variables (race, gender, and date of birth). The data was merged with the ComALERT Criminal History Database, which contains the criminal histories of ComALERT attendees who entered the program between Oct. 1, 2004, and Dec. 31, 2006. A propensity score matching technique was used to match the cases from the DCJS database to cases in the ComALERT database.

 

Analysis of the data included the construction of life tables, which can be used to calculate the cumulative percentage of study participants that are recidivating by time since release for each of the recidivism outcomes. The life table includes time (in quarters) since release and several variables for each quarter, including the number of study participants for whom data is available, the number of participants who entered the quarter having not yet recidivated, the number who recidivate in each quarter, and the number who are censored in each quarter. Because the life tables account for censoring, the recidivism rates take into account exposure to risk (the number of people for whom a recidivism event could be observed during each quarter, given the availability of data for that quarter).

 

Data was also analyzed using hazard regression analysis, which allowed for the inclusion of a statistical model of the variables that affect the likelihood of rearrest, reconviction, and reincarceration. These predictor variables include ComALERT treatment, demographic, and criminal history variables that are also related to recidivism. The life tables analysis does not control for these other predictors. The analysis used proportional hazards Weibull regression to model each recidivism outcome.

 

Finally, data on employment, earnings, drug and alcohol use, and family relations was collected from surveys distributed to 128 ComALERT participants and a comparison group of 113 Brooklyn parolees. The survey was based on the Urban Institute’s Coming Home Survey. ComALERT participants were initially contacted by mail and also by phone. Participants still in the program were personally contacted at the ComALERT offices. The comparison group of Brooklyn parolees was obtained by referrals of ComALERT survey respondents or in response to flyers distributed by parole officers.

 

A clear limitation to the survey data is that parolees who have been reincarcerated could not have been interviewed. Also, survey respondents were given a $20 Metrocard after the survey was explained but before the questions were asked. This interview incentive may have offset some of the bias of the sampling procedure. The results of the survey should be interpreted with caution, because the data was not generated by a well-defined sampling procedure.

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Cost

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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Jacobs, Erin, and Bruce Western. 2007. Report on the Evaluation of the ComALERT Prisoner Reentry Program. Albany, N.Y.: New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.
http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/brucewestern/files/report_1009071.pdf
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Hynes, Charles J. 2008. “ComALERT: A Prosecutor’s Collaborative Model for Ensuring a Successful Transition from Prison to the Community.” Journal of Court Innovation 1(1):123–49.

Kings County District Attorney’s Office. N.d. “ComALERT.” Accessed March 23, 2011.
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Related Practices

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Following are CrimeSolutions.gov-rated practices that are related to this program:

Adult Reentry Programs
This practice involves correctional programs that focus on the transition of individuals from prison into the community. Reentry programs involve treatment or services that have been initiated while the individual is in custody and a follow-up component after the individual is released. The practice is rated Promising for reducing recidivism.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
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Program Snapshot

Age: 18+

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, Hispanic, White, Other

Geography: Urban

Setting (Delivery): Inpatient/Outpatient, Other Community Setting

Program Type: Alcohol and Drug Therapy/Treatment, Aftercare/Reentry, Group Therapy, Individual Therapy, Probation/Parole Services, Vocational/Job Training

Targeted Population: Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) Offenders

Current Program Status: Active

Listed by Other Directories: National Reentry Resource Center

Program Director:
ComALERT Reentry Program
Kings County District Attorney’s Office
350 Jay Street
Brooklyn NY 11201

Researcher:
Bruce Western
Department of Sociology, Harvard University
33 Kirkland Street
Cambridge MA 02138
Phone: 617.495.3879
Email