Lawmakers hear from PEF on budget for public protection
Story and photo by DEBORAH A. MILES
After listening to state commissioners, presidents of other labor unions and directors of organizations testify about their budget needs in relation to public safety, PEF had an opportunity to voice its concerns.
It was late in the evening January 31, and the hearing room at the Legislative Office Building in Albany had only a handful of interested people remaining in the seats. But the state senators and Assembly members gave their full attention when Victor (Tony) Perez, a former council leader of PEF Division 236 and a senior parole officer, testified before the chairs of the joint Ways and Means Committee, Assemblyman Herman Farrell, Jr. and state Senator Catharine Young.
Perez was accompanied by Steven Drake, PEF’s labor-management chair for the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
Perez explained to the lawmakers the vital need for more parole officers (POs), as the average caseload of a PO is 55 parolees.
“Approximately 64 percent of parolees that are released to community supervision and remain under parole supervision are violent felony offenders. There will never be enough time to dedicate to these individuals, who are in need of more supervision because of their violent history.”
Perez shared facts such as how the number of POs has declined from more than 1,000 in October 2000 to 750 today. His testimony reflected on the COMPAS (Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions), a risk assessment tool, and the RESET (Recidivism Elimination Supervision Enrichment Teams) program, saying that money invested in them is not as results-driven when it comes to exercising power over someone’s freedom and the conditions that keep them free.
“The implementation of the COMPAS system has not resulted in any reduced recidivism,” Perez said. “If we are truly serious about putting our resources in a place where we could reap the most benefits, save the most lives and protect the community, let’s invest in people whose job it is to assist those who transition from prison to society.
“It is the parole officer who helps and counsels a former inmate to follow through on a rehabilitation program, job search, getting needed benefits or an education. It is the PO who gets a parolee off the street because he has become a danger to himself or to the community in which he lives. A parole officer is an integral part of every community and the person everyone comes to when all else has failed.”
Perez said the 2017-2018 Executive Budget proposes new programs for early releases of inmates to community supervision, but does not provide any new funding for more parole officers to supervise them.
“Instead, the budget contains provisions to reduce parole time by one-half for parolees who had not violated their parole for six months. Many times, it is a wrongful assumption that the parolee is doing well,” he said.
Perez concluded his testimony pointing out how easily the state came up with $25 million to pay for overtime when two prisoners escaped from Clinton Correctional Facility.
“It just goes to show you monies can be found if we make it a priority.”
Penny Howansky, PEF Division 357 council leader and an information technology specialist manager at the state Office of Information Technology Services (OITS) testified next. Jeffrey Smith, a PEF Executive Board member and assistant council leader, was at her side.
Howansky, due to time restraints and the number of people testifying that day, asked that her written testimony be carefully read. Instead, she effectively talked about the quality of the state workforce at OITS.
Howansky refuted a comment made by Lola Brabham, acting head of the state Civil Service Department, who said at a previous hearing, “The state workforce doesn’t always have the cutting-edge skill or the talent” required for some specialized OITS tasks.
“I can tell you we have an extraordinary and talented workforce, and our members have been providing excellent services for years. The agencies that were not included in the transformation such as the Office of the State Comptroller, SUNY and others, don’t complain about their IT service or skills necessary to provide services to the state. These offices are using the same PEF workforce, people who came up through the civil service merit-and-fitness system, not consultants,” Howansky said.
The crux of Howansky’s comments revolved around the special expertise (SE)required for upper level positions that OITS has planned for 250 consultants, resulting in a lack of career mobility and promotional advancement for PEF members.
Margaret Miller, OITS director, who testified earlier that day, was grilled by state Sen. Diane Savino, who questioned the reasoning of hiring consultants, instead of people through the civil service process. Miller stated she needed to fill middle-level positions due to retirements and said the consultants have an understanding of state systems.
Howansky added that OITS has proposed a training budget of $2 million. But only $313,000 will actually go to training. The remainder of the money will be spent on salaries and benefits.
“We implore you to look carefully at the OITS budget proposal and help ensure the adequate investments are made in the state workforce and in safeguarding the jobs and livelihoods of citizens who fill these positions,” Howansky said.
At the conclusion of PEF’s turn, Young complimented Perez and Howansky for their well-conceived and enlightening testimonies. View video here:
THeCOMMUNICATOR – March 2017 Contents – PDF