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Hope House Reshaping Alternatives to Incarceration, Now Under Construction

15 Nov 2023, Jail News, by brian

Hope House, to pioneer alternatives to incarceration for individuals with serious mental illnesses facing incarceration.

Hope House Reshaping Alternatives to Incarceration, Now Under Construction - Inmate Lookup

After a decade of advocacy, the construction of Hope House, a facility providing alternatives to incarceration for individuals with mental illnesses at risk of felony charges, is now underway in the Bronx.

The Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice, the nonprofit organization sponsoring the project, expects construction to be completed by 2025. The $13 million facility will house 16 people at a time, evenly split between men and women, who have conditions such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

The need for such a facility is evident, as one in five people incarcerated on Rikers Island has serious mental health issues. Hope House aims to provide an alternative to prison or jail for individuals with serious mental illnesses who have been charged with felony crimes. While alternatives to incarceration already exist in New York’s justice system, Hope House will be the first residence specifically for people accused of felony crimes.

Residents at Hope House will have access to therapeutic services, psychiatric counseling, skills training, recreational activities, services run by Argus Community Solutions, and the opportunity to meet with their families.

The Hope House residents will stay at the facility for up to two years, as recommended by psychiatrists. Four beds will be reserved for Bronx residents, and registered sex offenders will be ineligible for placement. The facility will also have 24-hour on-site security, according to Greenburger Center executive director Cheryl Roberts.

To be eligible for placement at Hope House, the judge presiding over an individual’s felony case must order treatment as part of a plea agreement. The length of stay at the facility will be determined based on recommendations from clinicians, with input from the person’s attorney and the district attorney working the case.

Individuals placed at Hope House instead of jail or prison must remain on-site until stabilized, typically taking at least six months. Roberts stated that Medicaid would generally pay for a 28-day stay.

Roberts expressed that they were aware that 28 days would not be sufficient, especially for the population it served.

Francis Greenburger, one of the founders of Greenburger Center, a literary agent and landlord, shared his experience of navigating the system with his mentally ill son, who was also incarcerated, and how it motivated him to establish a secure facility like Hope House.

He encountered challenges in finding a suitable mental health facility. A prosecutor told him that if he could provide a secure facility, they would consider it an alternative to incarceration. However, he later realized that there were no such facilities available.

The project is being funded through Medicaid funding and state aid. The cost of housing each person at Hope House is estimated to be around $125,000, significantly cheaper than incarceration. New York State spends $115,000 a year to incarcerate each person in its prisons, which surged to $556,539 during the pandemic, as shown in an analysis of the Department of Corrections.

Hope House is seen as a response to the deinstitutionalization movement that began in the 1950s, which led to a significant reduction in mental health beds. The number of available beds for people with mental illnesses decreased from 550,000 in the 1950s to fewer than 40,000 in 2016. As a result, many individuals with mental illness ended up in prisons instead of receiving proper treatment.

Greenburger criticizes the practice of putting mentally ill individuals in prisons, stating that it only worsens their condition.

The Fortune Society executive director, JoAnne Page, explains that many of their clients have mental illnesses and emphasizes the need for alternatives to incarceration, like Hope House. She highlights how easily someone with a mental illness can be charged with a felony for minor offenses like sleeping in a doorway or public urination.

Greenburg emphasized that the goal of Hope House is to improve upon this flawed system by ensuring that individuals leave in a better state than when they arrived.