Prison Reformers Hope De Blasio Keeps Promises

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Prison reformers and advocates for former inmates want a de Blasio administration to continue reducing the barrier to employment that past incarceration often represents.

Photo by: Karla Ann Cote

Prison reformers and advocates for former inmates want a de Blasio administration to continue reducing the barrier to employment that past incarceration often represents.

Formerly incarcerated New Yorkers are getting support from the de Blasio campaign, but advocates are hoping for more.

Clients and staff of the Fortune Society, an organization that helps recently released prisoners find housing and employment, note that while Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s campaign currently pledges to address issues such as employment after prison, alternative incarceration programs and a reduction of stop-and-frisk, a lack of contact with the Democrat's campaign office has the Fortune Society wondering if a de Blasio administration will deliver.

Glenn Martin, Fortune Society’s Vice-President of Public Affairs, says his organization invited mayoral candidates to come speak to his clients, but both de Blasio and Republican Joe Lhota, a former deputy mayor and MTA chairman, neglected to show.

Though the organization differed from Mayor Bloomberg on key policy issues such as stop-and-frisk and police tactics, the Fortune Society received funding and support from the Bloomberg administration.

As an example, Martin points to a 2011 Executive Order that city agencies not ask job applicants about prior criminal convictions until after the first interview. “That’s just an order, so we hope the new mayor will continue to follow that and even that it gets turned in to a law,” Martin says.

Inviting politicians to speak at organization’s Long Island City offices was a way to encourage civic engagement and show clients that their vote matters, says Martin. After speaking to mayoral candidates, Martin says, the Fortune Society followed up with voting registration for clients.

“When he didn’t show-up, it tells us we’re not on your priority list,” says Ismael Cedeno, a former Fortune Society client and current re-entry specialist.

After the primaries, Lhota and de Blasio personally reached out to the Fortune Society to indicate interest in speaking to clients, but both have been unable to set a date.

“De Blasio’s staff said he was booked and Lhota just never got back to us,” says Benjamin Solotaire, the Fortune Society’s volunteer coordinator.

De Blasio’s current policy booklet outlines his support for creating more community justice centers, stop-and-frisk reform and funding alternative incarceration projects. It also states a commitment to extending a ban on criminal background checks to private employers.

On the issue of criminal justice, Lhota’s campaign booklet states he will attempt to overturn the court’s ruling limiting the NYPD’s stop, question and frisk practice.

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