New York State Library

Division of Library Development

Regents Advisory Council on Libraries

The Joseph F. Shubert Library Excellence Award 2002

Albany Public Library

First Stop / The Next Step

1. Briefly describe your library and its community: size, budget, type, users.

The Albany Public Library (APL) is chartered to serve the 95,658 residents who live in the City of Albany. As the Central Library for the Upper Hudson Library System, the library also provides materials and services to the 29 member libraries. Our current facilities consist of one main and four branch locations. When work on the new Albany YMCA is completed, we will expand to five branch locations when we open our new North Albany branch.

APL recently completed a very successful rechartering campaign to change from an association library to a school district library. The voters also voted to increase the library's budget to 4.5 million dollars.

Some brief facts from our 2001 New York State Annual Report:

Briefly describe your project.

The Albany Public Library nominates the LSTA funded "First Stop / The Next Step" grant for the 2002 Joseph F. Shubert Library Excellence Award. The goal of this project is to provide job readiness classes, workshops and resources to help ease the transition from incarceration to employment. Coming home from prison does not mean that the former prisoner is fully away from prison. The prison experience is an indelible occurrence in a person's life. This project provides a viable solution to ease the transition process.

Criminal justice literature is full of articles that point to the 'transition process' as one of the most important keys to lowering recidivism rates. The goal of transition is to successfully reintegrate men and women into their homes, communities, peer groups, schools, and/or work settings. Transition services cannot be viewed as
services that exist within a vacuum or within one agency. Any effective transition model must include various related agencies, as well as family, peer, and community resources that can potentially assist ex-offenders as they re-establish themselves back in the community. That's exactly what we have created with this project.

"First Stop / Next Step" partnering agencies include:

  1. Prison Families of New York (the family component)
  2. Inmates, Inc. (the peer component)
  3. CareerLinks (the job readiness/work setting component)
  4. The Center for Law and Justice (the advocate / criminal justice component)
  5. The Albany Public Library (the community resource component)

This group creates an effective community support system that provides quality services to ex-offenders.

2. How did you interact with your users/constituency to identify the need(s) for your project?

"First Stop / The Next Step" developed out of a unique series of encounters and observations. The most notable indicators were an increased demand for and usage of post-incarceration job assistance materials and request for assistance with "inmate population information lookup" searches via the NYS Dept. of Correctional Services homepage (everyone sentenced to state prison since the early 1970's is listed in the database and family members utilize this service to track location and release dates). In addition, agency staff (example: Inmates, Inc. and CareerLinks) using APL's meeting rooms for workshops have engaged APL staff in conversations that have pointed out the increasing need for materials and services that target ex-offenders who are transitioning from incarceration to employment. With this knowledge, we began discussions with various criminal justice experts in Albany to determine the viability of a program like "First Stop / The Next Step". All of these meetings confirmed our belief: "First Stop / The Next Step" goes hand-in-hand with existing pre-release programs (when an inmate is booked, his/her education level is assessed so officials know what services an inmate may need). One unique feature that "First Stop / The Next Step" offers is that these services will take place at the Albany Public Library, a publicly accessible building, located in a large urban setting, open 69.5 hours a week, on all major bus lines and offering programs and services to all who walk through the doors. The Library provides anonymity for "First Stop / The Next Step" participants, along with educational opportunities that are offered as a public service, as opposed to the traditional parole and probation mandated meetings.

Our initial target population for this project was to provide direct service to 60 ex- prisoners. During the first 6 months of the project we reached 316 ex-prisoners, exceeding our 12-month target goal by 426%.

Several of the included attachments (public bulletin board photo at the library, the project workshop schedule, weekly inmate support group flyer) demonstrate the multi-outreach approach that was developed to reach out to ex-prisoners. All prisons have libraries and we knew that if we could just successfully get the word out about this project that we would be able to draw our target population to the library for a series of programs that would help them re-establish themselves back into their community.

3. What did your library do to meet those needs?

We when began this project, we knew that we were not experts in the criminal justice field and to reach our target population, we needed to reach out and partner with agencies who had an expertise in providing services to ex-prisoners. Through a series of phone calls and outreach visits, we were able to bring together an experienced group of human service agencies that would serve dual roles: staff members from the agencies would serve as the advisory committee (for guidance and oversight) and also be the core group that formed the foundation (develop workshops, publicize upcoming programs, help recruit our target population, provide services in the library to our participants).

What challenges were met?

We were fortunate that we initially set a low figure of 60 participants for this project. By doing so, we deflected the pressure of needing to be an immediate success and put the focus on a grass roots campaign to promote the project slowly, efficiently and effectively. Our six month evaluation numbers demonstrate our success. We let our partners do what they do best -provide services to ex-prisoners, and we set out to do what we do best -create a one-stop resource center for ex-prisoners in a publicly accessible location that offers anonymity to those who come through our doors. Our partners mention the library to all of their clientele, not just "First Stop / The Next Step" services but storyhour, computer classes, tax assistance, Internet access, videos, books, and all the other programs and services available in a public library. This full service approach provides a depth to our project -our target population may not be ready for the services offered via "First Stop / The Next Step" but, they can still make use of other services offered by the library and when they're finally ready to reach out, they are aware of this service and have no qualms about participating in the weekly support group sessions, job readiness classes, etc.

4. What impact did this project have on your users and/or your community?

In June 2001, the Urban Institute issued a research report showing that approximately 600,000 people -- roughly 1,600 a day -- were released from state and federal prisons last year. And, most of them will return to the communities from which they came. Locally, this means that close to 1,100 of the nearly 30,000 people released from NYS prisons each year will return to Capital Region communities. An interesting truth: a large percentage of ex-prisoners end up in Albany due to the fact that when they are released from State prison, they are given a one-way bus ticket to Albany. With no resources and/or money, those recently released usually end up at Homeless and Travelers Aid, who then refer them to us once they help them find food, clothing and shelter.

Some comments from our partnering agencies:

Prison Families of New York: The Albany Public Library is centrally located, known and respected and not at all a place where one would feel stigmatized. Moreover, our ex-prisoners and their families are learning about normal library services while they are there and this is a big help toward assimilating in a healthy way into the greater community.

Center for Law and Justice: The Albany Public Library is in a unique position to offer a one-stop central resource in the Capital District for ex-prisoners and their families. While in prison, many prisoners find refuge in the library where they can research legal issues, find educational materials, or research community resources in anticipation of their release. Providing transitional services at the Albany Public Library offers ex-prisoners a safe and familiar location to become acquainted with available community resources and obtain assistance.

Inmates, Inc.: The Albany Public Library's "First Stop / The Next Step" project has exposed a compelling need to continue and increase the opportunities for conversation and dialogue to develop the art of interview and counseling that afford direction for thinkers and those whose want to learn to think right.

Supply quantifiable data if appropriate.

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