The Commission was tasked with considering the psychological profile of prisoners, housing, employment, education, training, addiction and substance abuse treatment, medical and mental health treatment, access to legal assistance and other issues related to the failures and successes associated with reentry.
What the Commission found was that the prison population reflects deep social problems of race, poverty and the failure of social institutions to provide a way that would reduce the rates of incarceration. New Jersey has the highest racial disparity in state prisons in the nation. Individuals in the state who are Black are 12 times more likely than Whites to be incarcerated and Latinos six times more likely.
But how to fix the problem is at the top of New Jersey’s list.
With over 75 percent of parolees at the national level being rearrested within five years of release, the commission looked at ways to help lower that number. It found that some of the common issues that lead people back to prison are addiction, housing and employment.
For example, former prisoner Renault McCord said that without a driver’s license, identification or Social Security card, employers slammed the door in his face. Facing his fifth sentence, he told the judge he needed help. That judge gave him the second chance that he requested by connecting McCord with the New Jersey Reentry Corporation, which agreed to work with him.
McCord enrolled in school, earned his culinary degree from a local college and found employment. Four years later, he is still at the same job and has not reoffended.
When a person leaves prison with no money, no home, no job and, in many cases, no family support, reoffending is almost inevitable. Former Governor Jim McGreevey, who heads the New Jersey Reentry Corporation, agrees that with these obstacles, success is next to impossible. He placed emphasis on how important it is to improve the types of training available in prison so that people are prepared for real-world jobs.
The commission has recommended that barriers be removed to housing, employment, and other aspects that make it hard for former prisoners to make it. Sandra Cunningham, a commission co-chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said, “These people like everyone else, deserve the opportunity for a second chance. They are human beings who may have made a mistake but who are standing here saying, ‘I have corrected myself.’”
The Vera Institute of Justice has put the cost of incarcerating a person in New Jersey at around $61,000 annually. McGreevey said reentry services run $2,000 per person. Successful reentry eliminates the cost of incarceration. The costs to prosecute also disappear, saving taxpayers even more. And, when these adults are back to work, they are contributing taxpayers. Reentry is a win/win for people leaving prison and the community.
The realities that ex-prisoners face as they seek to reenter into the community are staggering. There are numerous problems that need to be addressed to better facilitate those leaving prison. Legal barriers, economic hurdles and lack of community support stand in the way of success.
With the legislature’s commitment and the commission’s report, it seems that New Jersey is all in on reentry. Other states would be wise to follow in its footsteps.
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