NY would pay ex-inmates $2,550 after prison under bill to aid transition, curb recidivism

New York could give former inmates up to $2,550 after they leave prison under a pending bill meant to help them pay for food and rent while they seek jobs and stability.

Advocacy groups backing the bill plan to rally at the Capitol in Albany on Monday to push for its passage in the last three weeks of this year's legislative session. The proposal was first introduced in the Senate a year ago and remains in committee in both that chamber and the Assembly.

Supporters argue that recently incarcerated people need more financial support to get their footing and avoid returning to crime after being locked up. According to the bill's sponsors, their meager sendoff from New York prisons until recently consisted of $40 from their own commissary accounts, a bus ticket and up to $65 worth of clothes provided by the prison.

Sing Sing Prison in Ossining as seen from the Hudson River Aug. 13, 2023.
Sing Sing Prison in Ossining as seen from the Hudson River Aug. 13, 2023.

Last month's state budget raised the "gate money" amount to $200 — also to be taken from the person's commissary account if enough funding is deposited there. Advocates say that still is not nearly enough for the difficult transition that awaits those who served time.

Under the bill, people who had spent at least six months in state prison — and who hadn't gotten similar payments after prior convictions — would be given up to $2,550 in state funds over six months, to be paid in $425 monthly installments. The proposal seeks $25 million in total funding and would take effect six months after signed into law.

Its Assembly lead sponsor is Eddie Gibbs, a first-term member from New York City who knows firsthand the difficult adjustments that follow incarceration. He was jailed on Rikers Island for 17 months, starting when he was 17 years old, and then served three years in prison for a manslaughter conviction until his release in 1991.

"With adequate support we are able to reduce recidivism and help aid re-entry efforts." Gibbs said in support of his bill in an X post in March.

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The New York State Legislative Assembly in session in the Assembly Chamber at the New York State Capitol, in Albany, New York, U.S., March 15, 2021. REUTERS/Angus Mordant
The New York State Legislative Assembly in session in the Assembly Chamber at the New York State Capitol, in Albany, New York, U.S., March 15, 2021. REUTERS/Angus Mordant

Around the U.S., the amounts of "gate money" other states give people when they leave prison vary widely but are generally quite low, ranging from nothing at all to $200 in California in a survey of 42 states done by The Marshall Project in 2019. In 2022, California lawmakers proposed hiking their state's amount to $1,300 but Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed their bill.

New York's bill would far surpass that proposal. The $25 million cost — though modest in a $237 billion state budget — will likely arouse opposition. Also clouding its chances are election-year politics for Democratic lawmakers, who have been hammered by Republicans for years for 2019 bail reforms and may be leery of feeding campaign ads about catering to criminals.

In addition, it's unclear if the measure could be adopted apart from the budget, which is needed to pay for it.

Four advocacy groups are leading Monday's rally. They said last month the funding would "ensure our fellow New Yorkers have the resources to cover their most basic needs — such as food, housing, transportation, and job preparation expenses — in the months following their release."

"This support will not only aid them in stabilizing and moving towards self-sufficiency but has strong potential to reduce recidivism, thereby saving taxpayers money while improving public safety," the joint statement read.

One rally organizer is the Center for Employment Opportunities, a Manhattan-based nonprofit that works in 12 states and says it distributed $24 million to more than 10,000 formerly incarcerated people after the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. That included $4.3 million in New York, shared by 1,756 people.

Some 9,358 people were released from New York prisons last year, according to data from the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. State law requires they be transported to the counties where they were convicted or where they've chosen to live. Their "gate money" rose to $200 on May 1, with the state covering any portion inmates don't have in their commissary accounts.

The corrections department touted the increase with a social media post saying it moved New York from one of the lowest amounts in the U.S. to one of the highest — "therefore providing individuals with additional funds to begin their successful reentry."

Chris McKenna covers government and politics for The Journal News and USA Today Network. Reach him at cmckenna@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: NY 'gate money' bill would give ex-inmates $2,550 to help after prison