A mayoral forum on Criminal Justice and Re-Entry March 30 attracted four of the candidates given some chance to capture the Democratic nomination, although the three considered early leaders in the polls—Andrew Yang, Eric Adams and Maya Wileydid not participate.

Asked by Omar Jackson of the Getting Out, Staying Out group that was one of several prisoner-rights advocacy organizations sponsoring the remote discussion about what they would do to provide more job training and resources to prevent recidivism, former city Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia said as Mayor she would ensure that "quality educational opportunities" were available.

Former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama Shaun Donovan, who before that was a top aide to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, pledged to move $500 million annually into community-based programs that addressed that issue.

Businessman Ray McGuire said his administration would focus on "basic skills training, computer skills, literacy, job-training, resume writing, anger management, financial management."

City Comptroller Scott Stringer, the most-progressive of the contenders who participated, touted his standing as "the first elected official to say 'shut it down and close Rikers'." One of his solutions, ending privatized prisons, is a problem that does not exist in New York, which banned them.

In response to a question from Terri Davis-Merchant, program director of Faith Communities for Just Re-Entry, Ms. Garcia said that education and job training were far-better investments than what ends up being the $400,000-plus annual cost of housing an inmate in the city jail system.

Mr. Donovan said he would create the position of "First Equity Officer, who would report directly to me," to deal with inequities that can lead to incarceration. He noted that during his time running the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he developed a productivity measure, the HUDSTAT System, that he said "dramatically reduced homelessness around the country."

Mr. McGuire said his administration would make better use of "nonprofits that are successful" to deal with the problem.

Mr. Stringer said he agreed with Ms. Garcia that the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice should play a bigger role than it currently does. He said that the city must combine education with its training programs "to make sure we are not operating in silos" and could better assist students who might not want to go to four-year colleges but would benefit from career training.

William Scarborough, a former state Assemblyman who is now an account manager at the Fortune Society, asked about recidivism.

Ms. Garcia replied that while the priority should be keeping youths out of prison and she would rely more on faith-based groups to reach at-risk kids, it was important that when offenders were released from city jails "that we have a plan for them."

Mr. Donovan said he would create a separate pretrial agency to steer people to alternatives to incarceration. Noting his past connections to Mr. Obama, President Biden and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, he added, "We need a Mayor who can work with the Federal Government to end the flow of guns" into troubled city neighborhoods. He echoed Ms. Garcia's call for taking steps to prepare inmates for re-entry to the outside world, saying, "We cannot wait until they come off the bus with $20 and a MetroCard. With no job, you've got no dignity." 

When Malaysia Mercer of the Osborne Association, whose parents have both served time behind bars, noted that at least 20 percent of city students have lost parents at some point to incarceration, Ms. Garcia said such situations amounted to "families in crisis" and that government should step in to assist. Mr. Donovan proposed an Education Recovery Corps to help with social, emotional and academic issues.

Mr. McGuire said, "We need to make visitation as accessible as possible" while investing more in social services, and said he would offer summer jobs to 8th-grade students.  

Mr. Stringer noted that the Department of Education "has no one dedicated to the 70,000 children who are in foster care" in terms of social workers and guidance counselors.  


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