We need to open more prison doors, and do more to help those who step out: McGreevey

Though New Jersey has made progress in criminal justice reform, much more must be done. The state remains plagued by the worst racial disparity in incarceration rates in the country: African-Americans are 12 times as likely and Latinos six times as likely to be incarcerated as Caucasians. Persons of color comprise only 44% of the state’s population but 76.5% of its prison population. New Jersey has, as Governor Murphy has made clear, a mass incarceration problem.

Moving forward, the administration and the state legislature should continue their good work to achieve the following five objectives.

1. Link returning persons directly to reentry sites. Max-outs, persons who have served the maximum sentence and therefore do not receive parole services, must be connected to reentry service sites, which provide comprehensive medical, legal, and employment services.

2. Enroll inmates in Medicaid before they are released. Recognizing addiction rates, co-occurring mental illness, and escalating hepatitis rates among the imprisoned, New Jersey must provide Medicaid cards prior to release, without which the formerly incarcerated cannot access essential healthcare and prescriptions. State Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson, as well as Senators Joseph Vitale and Sandra Cunningham and Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, are working to make this a reality.

3. Issue driver’s licenses or Motor Vehicle Commission identification cards to soon-to-be-released individuals. Without identification, a person cannot survive: housing, employment training, general assistance, healthcare, and addiction services are all inaccessible. The Motor Vehicle Commission’s chief administrator, B. Sue Fulton, is working with Senator Brian Stack to issue ID cards to returning persons prior to release.

4. Eliminate barriers to employment. The unemployment rate among formerly incarcerated individuals is five times the rate of the general population. NJRC seeks to provide industry-recognized credentials to our participants so they can be competitive in the labor market. Commissioner Rob Asaro-Angelo has been exceptional in designing apprenticeship training programs that respond to industry-specific skill needs. As well, those released from prison should not be deprived of the licenses they need to obtain gainful employment.

5. Create a reentry economy by:

  • Involving the business community through tax incentives for employers who hire formerly incarcerated individuals, as New Jersey has done for historically disadvantaged populations, and by working with those industries receptive to employing reentry populations.
  • Requiring that state contracts set aside a certain percentage of jobs for formerly incarcerated individuals as a condition for receiving funding through major infrastructure and bond-financed projects.
  • Making municipalities follow the example of Newark, which under Mayor Ras Baraka’s leadership, has partnered with NJRC to provide six-month positions in the city Department of Public Works. Mayor James Cahill of New Brunswick has followed suit. Such temporary employment allows participants to address medical needs and sort out legal issues, such as outstanding fines and warrants, while securing long-term housing and skill-based training. Lieutenant Gov. Sheila Oliver, meanwhile, is examining how the state can incentivize municipalities to broaden opportunities for the formerly incarcerated.

Reducing the prison population is a necessary first step. But we must also stabilize returning persons with medical, addiction treatment, legal, and housing services, by providing skill-based training and employment, and by creating a market for the formerly incarcerated by incentivizing governments and the private sector to employ and provide a “second chance” to those “who have dwelt in darkness from prison” (Isaiah 42:7).

 

Jim McGreevey, who served as New Jersey’s governor from 2002-2004, heads the New Jersey Reentry Corporation.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment