Jail officials say they're transferring people to prisons for their own safety. Those people get funneled into a system notorious for violence and medical neglect.
New York jails can transfer people with mental illnesses to maximum security prisons, even while they’re legally innocent.
By Chris Gelardi

Alex Mirzaoff needed help. His bipolar disorder had been getting worse. A judge from a mental health court in Rochester, where the 29-year-old had regular appearances for past shoplifting charges, decided that he had become dangerous and needed full-time care at a supportive housing facility.

The closest group home had a waitlist, so the judge sent him to the county jail. But the jail wasn’t equipped to provide Mirzaoff with the care he needed.

Across New York, the majority of defendants boarded out to prisons have severe mental health problems or behavioral issues. The thinking, according to authorities, is that while jails have limited resources and offer temporary accommodations, the state prison system has the facilities and 24-hour medical and security staff required to treat and house those with significant needs. In reality, they get funneled into a system notorious for violence and medical neglect.

Governor Kathy Hochul makes a child care announcement in Albany on December 20, 2023. Mike Groll / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
The clock is ticking for the governor to sign or veto a bill to expand child care assistance. Her administration might decide it costs too much — but supporters say their numbers are off.
By Arabella Saunders

Governor Kathy Hochul has until Friday to sign or veto a bill expanding access to child care — and she’s evaluating it based on a dramatically inflated estimate of how much it will cost, according to sources with knowledge of her deliberations.

New York offers vouchers to about 58,000 families to help offset the soaring cost of child care. But parents only qualify for the assistance during the exact hours they’re at work or school, with no flexibility for running errands, seeing a doctor, caring for a sick relative, or other responsibilities. Navigating the system is especially difficult for parents with unpredictable work schedules, like nurses, restaurant workers, and gig economy workers.

Industrial laundry company Arrow Linen has owned lots on a Park Slope block since the 1970s Sam Mellins
A laundry company wants to turn its factory into 13-story apartment buildings, sparking the latest in a series of fierce zoning fights.
By Sam Mellins

As Mayor Eric Adams pursues a plan to rezone much of New York City in an attempt to tackle a severe housing shortage, a proposal to build several hundred new apartments on a Park Slope block has generated fierce opposition from neighborhood residents.

The proposal was put forward by the industrial laundry company Arrow Linen, which is seeking the city’s permission to turn two sites currently occupied by its laundry plant into 13-story apartment buildings. To do that, it will need to get the City Council’s approval to lift the current zoning limits, which cap most buildings on the block at two or three stories.

The rezoning could allow for about 240 new apartments on the site, including about 60 units of affordable housing.

IDA-provided housing subsidies exist in a legal gray area, with some arguing they’re not permissible under state law. Photo: Garrett Looker | Illustration: Maia Hibbett
As the governor urges more housing, IDAs are looking to pitch in. Critics say it goes beyond their legal role.
By Arabella Saunders and J. Dale Shoemaker

Governor Kathy Hochul’s push for more housing has been interpreted by industrial development agencies as a green light to ramp up controversial tax breaks for developers.

The state’s 107 IDAs have never been explicitly authorized to subsidize housing, and some lawmakers say that’s for a reason: Housing creates few permanent jobs compared to the industrial and commercial projects the agencies were designed to support.

When IDAs do subsidize housing, it tends to be for market rate rather than affordable units. IDA subsidies in general — property, sales, and mortgage tax breaks — reduce the revenue local schools and municipalities can collect, shifting the burden to other taxpayers. That dynamic has recently sparked outcries in parts of the state.

New York Focus reporters Sam Mellins and Spencer Norris joined Radio Catskill’s Jason Dole to talk about the year that was in New York state news out of Albany. Tune in!

The parole board’s opacity can make it hard for anyone to secure release, but it especially burdens parole seekers on lengthy sentences for violent crimes. Maia Hibbett
In New York, many incarcerated people don’t know how to secure their freedom. A court fight could clear up the lethally opaque process.
By Nathan Porceng

Anthony Dixon was sure the parole commissioners would give him a “fair shake.” As a young man, Dixon was convicted of robbery, gun possession, and murder. After serving his minimum sentence of 30 years, he had extensive evidence of his transformation to present to the New York State Board of Parole.

“I came into prison at 20, 21 years old and I went before [the board] as a man in my 50s, as a changed person,” Dixon told Bolts and New York Focus. While incarcerated, he developed anti-violence and anti-drug programs and worked toward a college degree. Prison staff wrote letters commending his character and accomplishments.

The parole board rejected his application anyway — and Dixon said it barely explained why. The decision’s vague phrases and boilerplate language gave no indication of what he could have done differently, he said, and he had no clue how to prepare for his next hearing. It took him two more years of fighting to secure his release.

Contributions made to New York Focus will be tripled until the end of December. Your support will directly go to helping us report revealing, in-depth stories that explain how New York really works.

SCOC has unusually wide-ranging power for jail oversight. It rarely deploys its full arsenal. Maia Hibbett
The State Commission of Correction has been stumbling for decades — with millions of incarcerated people caught in the lurch.
By Eliza Fawcett

In 1985, Jeanne Thelwell, a young lawyer from New York City, arrived in Albany to start work as a commissioner for the State Commission of Correction. She was excited, thinking she’d joined a hard-hitting agency dedicated to righting wrongs in prisons and jails.

The commission, abbreviated as SCOC, was an independent state body tasked with keeping correctional facilities safe and humane. As one of its three full-time commissioners, Thelwell traveled across New York visiting state prisons and county jails, sometimes carrying out surprise inspections.

She soon grew disillusioned. Politics seeped into SCOC’s work and organizing structure, curtailing its authority and impact. The commission was “a pretty pedestrian place,” she said, with a pattern of appointments that included “whatever political connection the governor wanted as the chair.”

“It can’t do the job and I don’t know if it ever did,” Thelwell, now 72, told New York Focus.

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