Drew House represents a unique partnership between the Kings County (Brooklyn, New York) District Attorney’s Office and Housing + Solutions, a non-profit supportive housing provider. This innovative program allows select women charged with felony offenses to fulfill the Court’s mandates while living with their children in a supportive housing apartment. Felony charges are dismissed after completion to prevent future disenfranchisement. Drew House was originally conceptualized in 2000 by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes and Assistant District Attorneys Mary Hughes and Teresa Fabi. After years of setbacks in implementing their vision of a mother-child alternative to incarceration program, the house opened in 2008 after they joined forces with Rita Zimmer and Housing + Solutions, a non-profit supportive housing provider.
The Drew House Model provides supportive housing in a non-secure setting as an alternative to incarceration (ATI) for women with minor children. All mothers with felony charges are eligible for consideration on a case by case basis (those charged with violent felony offenses are eligible for consideration if the crime did not result in serious injury and the victim approves.)
The program also allows for:
- Acceptance of minor children (the number of children is not limited).
- Case management and brief counseling (provided on-site).
- Referrals for community health and supportive services.
- Prerequisite of homelessness at plea and disability (mandated by current funding source), most commonly substance abuse use or mental illness.
- Court monitoring by third party (women are not monitored by the court after completion of their mandate).
Columbia University researchers were engaged to review and assess Drew House (see
_Report.pdf). Their findings are summarized below.
Participants are ordered to reside in Drew House until the court determines the terms of their mandate are completed (generally between 12 and 24 months). Residence in the program requires adhering to program rules, such as curfew, visitation, and comportment within the house. Mandates also typically include mandatory drug testing and weekly monitoring by Brooklyn TASC or Brooklyn Treatment Court, substance abuse treatment, parenting classes, education or vocational training, and pursuit of employment. One of the most unique aspects of Drew House is that women with violent charges are not automatically excluded from the program, which is the norm in community corrections (in screening their cases, the DA and ADAs began noticing that many of their violent cases with female defendants had not resulted in a serious injury and that circumstances of the cases suggested the woman were unlikely to pose a future threat to public safety.) As they identified eligible women, they also found that the victims readily agreed with the alternative placement.
The case and housing managers use a strengths-based, relational approach in partnering with women individually and as a group to decrease risks associated with future criminal justice contact and promote independence. Staff also model prosocial behavior, assist women in attaining and maintaining self-sufficiency through employment and public assistance, support positive relationships with family and partners, and connect participants with education and vocational training. Support in seeking post-mandate independent housing is also provided. The case manager works to connect families to needed primary and specialty health care and developmental support services, such as Early Intervention.
The primary aim of the research conducted by Columbia University was to evaluate implementation of the program and determine interim outcomes for participating families. Their findings supported Drew House as a model program: “Allowing select women charged with felonies and their children to reside in Drew House strengthened these families without compromising public safety.”
Key evaluation findings included:
- Six of the nine program participants have successfully completed their court mandate. Two additional women were progressing without incident toward completion at the end of data collection.
Drew House is cost-effective. It costs $34,000 a year to house a mother and two children, as opposed to $129,000 a year for incarceration and foster care.
- Women were 29 years (range 20 – 40 years) of age on entry.
- The average length of stay from entry to completion was 15 months (range 7 – 21 months).
- Participating women reported an average of 2.3 children (range 1 – 4), but approximately one fewer child per family lived in the program (range 1 – 3). The average age of resident children on entry was 5 years (range 6 months – 13 years).
- The charge leading to Drew House placement was the first felony for all but one woman.
- No participants were charged with an additional crime while living in the house. The three women who have moved out have not received any additional charges.
- The Drew House program supported family preservation, especially with younger children.
- Women uniformly described staying in the community with their children as an “opportunity” and a “blessing.”
Interview with Charles Hynes, Kings County District Attorney
Q What inspired you to begin Drew House?
A During my 20-plus year tenure as Brooklyn District Attorney, we saw an explosion in the number of incarcerated women, many of whom are mothers. We recognized that the prolonged separation of mother and child as a result of the mother’s imprisonment has dire consequences for the children, many of whom themselves enter the criminal justice system. Drew House was created to offer an alternative to incarceration to these women in order to help keep their families together and to break the generational cycle of incarceration.
Q What are some of the most compelling lessons you have learned that you can offer to others in the field?
A That every case is individual and bears looking at closely.
Q How do you think services for women involved in the criminal justice system has changed over the past 5-10 years?
Children thrived in the Drew House environment. Women reported (that their children had) improved academic performance after entry into the house and children who moved into the home behind in their development caught up quickly.
A I think there have been some changes, including more women-focused programs, but there is still so much more to be done. We look at Drew House as one of the prime examples of a successful, gender-informed program.
Q What has inspired you the most in your work?
A The recognition that people are resilient. Even the most hardened criminals coming out of prison, when given the opportunity to change their lives, grab hold of it. ComALERT, my re-entry program geared to helping felony offenders who are returning to their communities after serving out their prison sentences, is a prime example.
Q What do you see happening in the field of criminal justice as it relates to women or gender-informed practices in the next few years? What progress still needs to be made?
A I think that the Drew House paradigm is essential for prosecutors to examine and to consider when evaluating cases involving women defendants who are mothers. If we, as prosecutors, continue to follow a policy of incarcerating these women without any regard to the consequences to their children, we have lost the next generation to incarceration as well, and the cycle continues.
Q What do you think is the greatest challenge facing the field in implementing gender-responsive strategies?
A Change is difficult, particularly when you are dealing with large systems, such as the criminal justice system. But I have witnessed the tremendous change over the last two decades in how we deal with defendants convicted of narcotics-related crimes – how we now recognize that many of them are themselves people in need of treatment. And that is what is now offered to them, instead of simply throwing them in jail.
Q What advice do you have for professionals working in the field who want to achieve better outcomes with the justice-involved women with whom they work?
A So many of the women who enter the criminal justice system have themselves been victims of abuse – psychological, physical, sexual – and suffer from post-traumatic stress, depression, and a host of other disorders. They have many needs – and they also have children. I would remind all those working with this population that it is essential to consider the entire family unit – mother and children – when looking to solutions.
Q Are you aware of similar resources in the field?
A Unfortunately, resources are scarce. The good news, however, is that programs such as Drew House SAVE money – studies have shown that they are in fact far cheaper to fund than incarceration and foster care, and that is very encouraging.
Q Are there publications or resources by your organization about which others should be aware?
A For a New York Times article that highlights Drew house, see: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/22/nyregion/for-mothers-facing-prison-drew-house-in-brooklyn-offers-alternative.html
To read the full report of the evaluation of Drew House conducted by Columbia University, see: http://www.brooklynda.org/drew_house/DrewHouse_Report.pdf
For an overview and brief commentary about Drew House, see: http://www.justfamilies.org/keeping-families-together-paying-less-to-do-so/
For more information about Drew House, contact Teri Fabi, Kings County Assistant District Attorney, at 718-250-2955 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.