From Bars to Better Lives: Why New Jersey Needs Comprehensive Reentry Support
5,300 inmates were released from New Jersey prisons in 2020 following the threat of the pandemic. 5,300 individuals are now out in the world needing homes and jobs while learning how to be productive members of society. These individuals want to succeed, but the odds are stacked against them as they lack IDs, benefits and resources to help them with educational, religious and medical programs. Without reentry assistance, former inmates are more likely to recidivate.
Everyone deserves a second chance, that’s what they say right? How can we say this when that second chance comes with no resources, no help and no way out. To give former inmates a real chance at a fresh start we need to provide them with resources that keep their head above water, that allow them to take care of themselves and lower the chances of them reoffending.
Bill A666 calls on the state to require certain county inmates to be provided with reentry assistance before their release.
Unfortunately, bill A666 has not moved past being referred to a committee in the past six legislative sessions in which it has been introduced. This bill, if passed, would include a wide range of resources such as a non-driver ID and birth certificates for New Jersey born residents. Having an ID will make it easier and more possible for former inmates to access government aid programs like SNAP, welfare and medicaid.
Other resources include ways to continue education and religious programs as well as any medical or addiction treatment that was started in prison. Inmates would also be provided with any and all documents and records upon release. This assistance is so vital to former inmates because once released, they are starting a new life, and having access to these resources gives them a real opportunity to do better.
NJ Reentry Corporation founded by former Governor Jim McGreevey offers reentry assistance to former inmates connecting them to resources like SNAP, Medicaid, employment etc. 10% of their clients recidivate compared to the state recidivism rate of 30%. NJRC is proof that reentry assistance works. Passing bill A666 ensures that all county inmates are considered for these resources prior to their release to create more success stories like those we see at NJRC and lower recidivism rates across the entire state.
Fred Fred Smith accepting his certificate of completion from YAP Program Director Edwin “Chino” Ortiz | theneighborhoodadvocate.org
Reentry services are proven to work so we need to continue to establish paths for former inmates to recreate their lives after learning from their mistakes. A prime example of when reentry services have been successful is the story of the Ortiz brothers. The two brothers – Carmelo and Edwin “Chino” Ortiz were sentenced to 30 years on charges related to the death of a man during a robbery. Upon release, Carmelo said that he had no ID or birth certificate which only added to the difficulties he would face. The brothers were unable to find stable housing and felt shunned by society. The world had changed so much, neither brother had even used a phone before – there was so much to learn and adjust to.
Through the aid of the New Jersey Reentry Corporation, Edwin was able to find a job to get him back on his feet. Eventually, the two brothers followed their dream and created their own program with Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. (YAP), a social-justice nonprofit. Their program creates individualized service plans for each participant (former inmates) and they try to focus on that individual’s goals and passions. The brothers’ program is unique in that they are able to relate to those they are helping. Supporting bills like A666 means more success stories like the Ortiz brothers.
High prison populations cost taxpayer money
While the services that come along with the bill can seem costly, it will not cost anywhere near the amount of money spent on New Jersey prisons. According to the most recent statistic available, New Jersey was recorded to be paying about $61,603 per inmate and over $1.3 billion in total prison expenditures.
Providing reentry services to former inmates will lower recidivism rates and lower the prison population. Less people incarcerated means less taxpayer money going toward funding jails and prisons. This could result in tax cuts or taxpayer money being utilized for other important projects and institutions like fixing roads, education and health care.
Maurice Romero, a man arrested at fifteen and released at fifty-one, went on to obtain a master’s in Criminal Justice after his incarceration and hopes to help others like himself by advocating for policy change. He says, “If you’re constantly closing doors in our faces, if you’re constantly denying us housing, if you’re constantly denying us jobs, guess what we’re gonna do, we’re gonna go back to what we know best…I don’t want to be judged by the mistakes I made, I want to be judged by the man that I am today.”
Let’s help create a better New Jersey where former inmates can have a chance to get back to their families, become better people and be successful, productive members of society. Bill A666 makes this possible by requiring certain county inmates to be provided with reentry assistance before their release. Call on your legislators to pass bill A666 and make New Jersey a state of forgiveness and progress.
About The Author:
Gabriella Manresa is the Service Specialist Intern of the Lesniak Institute for American Leadership. Gabriella is a student at Kean University obtaining both a Bachelors and Masters of Public Administration through the university’s BA/MPA Honors Program
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