On Thursday, Nov. 14, The Assembly Appropriations Committee heard testimonies from criminal justice advocates in support of Earn Your Way Out (EWO) S761/A1986 – the most significant criminal justice reform proposed in America.

Here are some of those testimonies: 

Assemblyman Holley, Senator Lesniak, and Assemblywoman Sumter discuss Earn Your Way Out proceeding the Assembly Appropriations Committee Meeting. 

Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, Former NJ State Senator and Founder & President of The Lesniak Institute for American Leadership:

I want to thank Assemblywoman Sumter, Assemblyman Jamel Holley, Senator Cunningham Senator Cardinale and the chair members of the committee for considering one of the most significant criminal justice reform legislation pending in America today. 

As appropriate for the appropriations committee to hear, Earn Your Way Out will save millions of taxpayer dollars. First, is the earn your way out component, which was the brainchild of David Kerr, Founder of Integrity House. This will give an inmate the opportunity to become a better person when they leave prison from when they entered prison. By starting a reentry plan not when the inmate gets out of prison, but when they enter prison. By offering incentives: one day off of their sentence for every five days of their participation in the re entry plan including: education, job training, counseling, community service, group theapery, the entire gamut of things that will help an inmate get out of prison earlier and integrate into society in a manner which would lead to a productive and crime free life. 

The second half, again saving millions of dollars, was the brainchild of Roseanne Scotti from Drug Policy Alliance. It’s called presumptive parole in other states. Here we have Tyrone Barns- I want to tell his story. He was a model prisoner. He participated in education, he taught other prisoners, and yet his release from prison was aubartarly denied by the parole board. So what presumptive parole does is if you are a prisoner who does not have any serious offences while you’re in prison, except for the most heinous crimes, no early release, you’ll get out of prison and be able to start to plan your life and live your life instead of dealing with uncertainty for the inmate and your family.

We will be able to close prisons, saving tens of millions of dollars. This bill will reduce the rate of recidivism and I am pleased to announce that it has bipartisan  support with both liberals and conservatives. Senator Cardinale was a co sponsor in the senate. Americans for Prosperity are here to testify on its behalf. It’s been five years and I appreciate Assemblywoman Sumter leading the charge to get it done and your support as well. 

Don Hebert, Director of Recovery Services at Prevention is Key/CARES:

My name is Don Hebert and I am the Director of Recovery Services at Prevention is Key/CARES. We are a non-profit that is dedicated to helping all people with their unique pathway of recovery by promoting and supporting health, home, purpose, and community.

Today I’m here to provide testimony and advocate for “Earn Your Way Out” simply because we can’t wait for people to be released from jail, prison, or other institutions and then expect them to make healthy lifestyle choices.

Prevention is Key/CARES is currently working with the Morris County Correctional Facility to offer a variety of Peer Recovery Support Services. Here is one example of how our Peer Recovery Specialist (Emily) is helping a woman with her pathway of recovery.

In her own words … “Participating in the women’s program at Morris County Correctional Facility has been the most rewarding program that I have participated in.  Not only for me, but also for the women that we serve. 

The women have said that our program brings them hope and lifts their spirits, unlike many programs that are brought inside.  We provided a different component to their recovery that traditional 12-step programs are not designed to do.

We use lived experience to guide conversation that allows us to build relationships grounded on mutual respect and trust. There is a commonality that we are able to find that helps blossom these relationships. 

I was working with a woman inside the Morris County Correctional Facility for an extended period of time.  During this time we were able to discuss future plans, triggers, recovery and issues that arise in life. 

Initially, she was considering going to state prison instead of a program because she felt hopeless.  While working with us at the jail, she changed her mind to go to a halfway house and continue on Drug Court. 

After her release, she continued to speak with me.  She was an individual who did not have any family or support because of all of the bridges that she burned during active addiction.  

We were able to provide her with care packages, which included: clothes, hygiene products, and food.  Not only did we provide the package, but I continued to see her at least once a month, sometimes more while she was at her halfway house in Newark.  I was able to watch her grow in her recovery and be a person for her to lean on while she navigated the real world.”

To conclude Prevention is Key/CARES supports “Earn Your Way Out” and would like to partner with them to expand Peer Recovery Support Services. Together we will do that which we cannot do alone. We are asking for your help as legislatures to support “Earn Your Way Out.” This is something real, tangible, and effective. You can help. We need your support. Please remember this. Real change must begin on the inside if there is going to be any chance for lasting change on the outside.

Thank you!

Tyler Koteskey, Criminal Justice Policy Analyst at Americans for Prosperity:

Dear Chairman Burzichelli and Members of the Appropriations Committee, thank you for this hearing and for the opportunity to provide testimony.

My name is Tyler Koteskey and I am Criminal Justice Policy Analyst at Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the nation’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to breaking barriers to opportunity. On behalf of AFP’s thousands of activists in New Jersey, I urge you to support A-1986, the “Earn Your Way Out Act.”

A-1986 would give inmates with a track record of good behavior and a desire for rehabilitation additional opportunities to accrue compliance credits against their sentence and a pathway to a streamlined administrative parole release. While New Jerseyans who commit crimes should be held accountable, they don’t benefit from policies that incarcerate those ready to reenter their communities longer than is necessary. And at per-inmate incarceration costs of over $50,000 per year, neither do New Jersey taxpayers. By allowing administrative parole for lower level, well-behaved offenders who have sought out rehabilitative programming, A-1986 will give more New Jerseyans in the correctional system the opportunity to turn their lives around, contribute to their communities, and reunite with their families.

A-10986 also tasks the Department of Corrections with creating a Division of Reentry Services, which will help inmates prepare for release and connect them with resources tailored to a variety of potential individual needs, such as mental health, substance abuse, employment, or education. Connecting inmates with these individualized services will go a long way in improving New Jersey’s recidivism rate and continuing to reduce taxpayer burdens.

By ensuring New Jersey sentencing is more proportional to offenders’ individual circumstances, we can avoid these drawbacks and make our state a more just place. I applaud A-1986’s effort to provide earlier second chances, but I recommend the committee also consider additional reforms to the bill to improve its impacts.

A-1986 is an important step forward for New Jersey that stands to benefit both reentering citizens and taxpayers alike. To discuss further, please contact me directly at TKoteskey@afphq.org or (571)-882-0795. Additionally, you can reach Tony Howley, the AFP New Jersey State Director, at AHowley@afphq.org or (609) 335-1987. Thank you in advance for your consideration.