Queensboro first opened in 1975 as a medium-security prison in Long Island City in the Borough of Queens. Over the years, the Gotham facility has been transformed several times to address a variety of missions. After meeting those Departmental needs, it is once again a general confinement facility – for now, at least.
In the early 1980s, Queensboro housed parole violators awaiting a determination that they either be returned to prison or released to parole supervision. Soon after, the facility joined most of the other prisons in New York City with a mission of housing only those inmates in temporary release programs, like work release, educational release and furloughs.
In 2001, its mission changed again.
Queensboro today is a minimum-security facility for inmates who have only a short time before they are released to parole supervision.
Like many other state prisons in NewYork City, the building which houses Queensboro was not always a prison. In fact, its roots date back to the Great Depression.
The six-story, stately brick building was built in the early-1930s as a YMCA, and for decades it was a popular haunt for neighborhood residents. In the 1950s it was converted to a warehouse for a New York City electrical supply business. In 1968, the building’s mission changed yet again.
That’s when the warehouse was acquired by the state as a Community Rehabilitation Center that operated under the auspices of the state’s Narcotics Addiction Control Commission. Those types of facilities began to be phased out in the 1970s, paving the way for the opening of Queensboro.
Queensboro, which today has the capacity to house 424 inmates in barracks-style housing units, at one time housed many more convicted felons. Its population peaked at 924 work release inmates in 1997 at a time when the facility was double bunked.
Each housing unit has dedicated toilet, sink and shower areas.
Each also features two day rooms where inmates can watch television, pursue other recreational endeavors and converse among themselves.
The fourth floor houses the counseling, state Division of Parole and community agency offices, the teleconferencing center and a new commissary.
Queensboro’s third floor is devoted to programs with classrooms, staff offices, the general and law libraries, offices where inmates can meet with their counselors and a multi-denominational chapel.
The second floor houses administrative offices and space for support staff, the medical and dental units, the Inmate Records Coordinator and a modestly-sized disciplinary unit.
Located on the first floor are the mess hall and visiting area, arsenal and draft processing area, maintenance shops and a gymnasium. Down in the basement there are also three medium- sized maintenance workshops, as well as storage areas and a small office.
Unique inmates with unique needs
Queensboro was last accredited by the American Correctional Association in 2002, reaffirming that it meets, and in many cases exceeds, strictACAoperational standards designed to ensure the safety of prisons throughout the country. Queensboro is scheduled for its next accreditation in 2005.
Queensboro’s inmates have already appeared before parole boards at upstate facilities and have been designated as open-date cases. That means they’ve been approved for parole back into the community as of a certain date. However, Queensboro’s inmates can still be detained beyond their open date if they don’t come with an acceptable post-release supervision program that deals with issues like employment, substance abuse treatment and housing arrangements.
Turnover for Queensboro’s inmates is quite high, because their open dates are generally scheduled for within 60 days of their reception at the facility. That means staff has to hustle to help inmates complete suitable post-release supervision plans so inmates can go home when their open date arrives. Queensboro’s program curriculum is tightly scheduled, fast-paced and intensive. It covers a wide range of community integration issues.
The program is derived from an ambitious pilot project initiated in the spring of 2002 as a joint effort of the Department, the Division of Parole and the VERA Institute of Justice. The original curriculum, designed by T3 Associates- Training and Consulting, Inc., has been modified significantly to better address the needs of Queensboro’s highly-transient, short-term population. The program is planned on inmate enrollment of five weeks and is called “Cognitive and Social Interaction Skills for Re-Entry: A Program for Offenders Approaching Release.”
It requires that intensive program participation commences immediately upon reception at Queensboro The orientation phase [includes] a presentation on routine facility functions, initiation of a parole discharge plan, initiation of Medicaid processing and an introduction to the program curriculum.
An integral part of the programming at Queensboro is the on-site comprehensive participation of local community agencies that specialize in providing assorted transitional services.
. . . the agencies have proven vital in providing inmates with the assorted tools, knowledge and coping skills needed to succeed upon release. They’ve been a key component in Queensboro’s mission for years and they’ve logged many successes, despite not having all that much time to work with the inmates.
Consider: Between 85 and 100 inmates are paroled from Queensboro in a typical week, and the cycle begins again with new transfers of inmates received from other upstate prisons. . . .
Agencies that are currently offering services to Queensboro inmates include Reality House, Hogan House, CUNY Initiative, Spellman Center at St. Clare’s Hospital, Strive/East Harlem Employment Services, Inc., the Fortune Society, the Minority Task Force on AIDS, Wildcat Services Corp. and the Center for Employment Opportunities.
Besides job opportunities, education and substance- abuse treatment, other issues covered by the community service agencies include restoring family ties as well as legal and health issues.
The agency offerings are comprehensive, designed to make the inmate whole while striving for ongoing improvement in a variety of disciplines. For instance, Wildcat Services is an outside contractor that is paid to provide job development and placement for the facility’s inmates. It also assists in the preparation of resumes. The agency’s staff meets with inmates during their orientation with their goal being to enroll them in their job placement program. Wildcat Services has a performance- based contract with the Department, meaning it is paid according to the number of inmates it enrolls and places in jobs.
“The participation of these agencies is critical to the success of the paroling inmate because it introduces him to valuable resources in the community with which he would be otherwise unfamiliar,” said Queensboro Superintendent Dennis Crowley. “Follow-up referrals for the parolee have proven to be a highly-significant factor in the inmate succeeding when he is released.”
Assisting inmates with job development programs
Besides regular counseling sessions and trying to devise a workable post-release supervision plan, Department employees take other proactive steps to help provide inmates with the tools for success. . . . Queensboro also offers its own job development program. Full-time experienced job developers are . . . charged with assisting inmates in securing suitable and meaningful employment . . .
Queensboro’s job developers also scour the Web and newspaper classified sections for available openings. . . .
To qualify for the job development program, inmates must either be on temporary release or preparing for transition back into the community.
Cognizant of the fact that inmates have other needs, the Department recently enacted a new initiative in partnership with the federal Human Resources Administration.
Upon reception, each inmate is encouraged to complete a Medicaid application. Once completed, the inmate may be provided with a supervision plan to include referrals to employment vendors and the National Association of Drug Abuse Problems.
Counselors also assist inmates if they need to fill out applications for a birth certificate, driver’s license, Social Security card or other important documents.
“The challenges facing the inmate upon his return to the community are substantial and can at times be overwhelming,” said Mr. Crowley. “The varied programs and counseling that are offered here at Queensboro provide an invaluable tool to assist the parolee and his family in getting back on the right path.”
During the past several years, staff at Queensboro has also been diligent in using its state-of-the-art teleconference equipment to benefit staff and inmates alike. Besides being able to provide education on a host of issues, teleconferencing negates the need for staff to have to travel out of town, sometimes long distances, for seminars, meetings and training. That has helped to substantially save taxpayer dollars, a big plus in these austere times.
Through this technology, Queensboro staff and those in other prisons receive regular education, training, updates and input from legal staff, substance abuse counselors, education staff, Central Office staff, vocational staff and invited guests with expertise in a host of relevant areas.
On the inmate side of the ledger, teleconferencing has addressed vital issues such as HIV/AIDS education, secondary education and a variety of other transitional issues. Former inmates who have been successful on the outside are also frequent guest speakers. They tell Queensboro inmates how they’ve managed on the streets and advise the inmates to work their programs so they, too, can succeed upon release. . . .
Teleconferencing also provides the inmate with another perspective that might help him fine-tune and hone his post-release supervision program.
The daily work assignments of Queensboro security employees are not solely confined to the inside of the facility.
Queensboro is responsible for operating a centralized transportation unit that transports inmates from all the Department’s correctional facilities for male inmates in New York City.
Queensboro employees are also responsible for separately moving female inmates in and out of the New York City area.
Pitching in to help the needy.
Because of its unique mission, the intensity of the programming and the reality that Queensboro inmates won’t be around all that long, the facility does not offer any supervised community crews to work on behalf of municipalities and not-for-profit agencies. It used to provide such crews years ago, when it was classified as a medium-security facility. Today, however, the focus has shifted, and coming up with an acceptable post-release supervision program for its inmates is Queensboro’s sole objective.
But that doesn’t mean the local community has been neglected by its prison neighbor. . . .
Every year, staff and inmates at prisons across the state participate in Make a Difference Day (MADD) projects to benefit the needy in area communities. As part of its 2003 activities, employees at Queensboro targeted St. John’s Bread and Life Program, a Brooklyn-based ministry that assists the needy, as its primary MADD beneficiary. Among other things, staff donated non-perishable food items and assorted personal hygiene products and delivered them to the agency. The donations were distributed under the agency’s More Than a Meal initiative, which provides personal hygiene products to the needy, and the Family Food Pantry, which helps to ensure that needy area children do not go hungry.
Queensboro employees also donated used cell phones to the agency for use by victims of domestic violence. “We’ve always prided ourselves on being active in the community and we’re always making ourselves available to anyone who needs assistance,” said Mr. Crowley.
Just as Queensboro employees have embraced the community, the community has embraced them.
Registered volunteers visit the facility regularly to assist inmates in devising an appropriate post-release supervision program and also assist many of the facility’s inmates with their ongoing recovery from substance or alcohol abuse. Among other things, they conduct AA and NA meetings and religious services.
Their hope is to make the inmates stronger as well as more focused and dedicated.
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