Since October of 2021, the ReNew Reentry Court in Newark has supported a new Backpack Initiative led by Brittany Macaluso and Henry Wilson-Sadlowski along with two
participants who have provided frequent guidance. The stresses that result from having to gather basic necessities with the little resources given to reentrants when they first leave prison can compound in a way that makes it difficult for participants to focus on their larger goals. During one of our weekly meetings, a formerly incarcerated leader on the project reflected that the “one thing that brings you back to recidivism thinking is not having things.” It was through such conversations that we realized the importance of seemingly minor conveniences in establishing the stability upon which a new life can be built successfully.

The project’s goal is to help decrease recidivism rates by providing ReNew participants in Newark, Camden and Trenton with bags containing items deemed essential by participants to support their peers in the period immediately following release. In addition to the courts listed above, some bags will also be sent to the Newark Recovery Court.

We have partnered with NJRC, a massive Reentry Organization in New Jersey led by former Governor Jim McGreevey. NJRC is a statewide leader in reentry work, and we are
excited that they saw promise in our project and decided to include us in their annual pandemic relief drive, which will fulfill our needs for toiletries and clothing items. The drive draws on NJRC’s network of churches, women’s groups and an ambassador program, which allows for widespread and diverse community engagement with reentry. In addition to those items supplied by our partnership with NJRC, we are still looking to obtain other more specific items such as notebooks, belts and gift cards through donations on our Amazon Wishlist.

More Reading: Mental Health Courts: the Need to Reevaluate it in Our Criminal Justice System

backpack initiative

The Lesniak Institute for American Leadership founded by Senator Raymond Lesniak, who spent a large part of his career fighting for criminal justice.

One of his most notable advances in criminal justice is through S761 which provides inmates the support to have a successful reentry into society. Prior to release, there will be a reentry plan implemented for each inmate with services that will cover medical, psychiatric, psychological, educational, vocational, substance abuse, and social rehabilitative services shall be incorporated into a comprehensive reentry plan. With clear expectations of them and the legal system, these rehabilitation programs will help aid the wellbeing of each inmate as they re-enter society. This bill also provides that parole terms be reduced by parole compliance credits at a rate of five days for each month the person is in compliance with the conditions of parole, and has not committed a serious or persistent infraction. Bill S761 was signed into law by Governor Murphy in January of 2020. The law became effective on February 1, 2021, however it has not yet been implemented. This is a project that corresponds with his and the Institute’s continued efforts at making true criminal justice impacts.

About the authors:

Brittany Macaluso, a policy practice MSW Candidate at Columbia University and former Lesniak Institute Intern Henry Wilson-Sadlowski, an incoming freshman at the Elliott School of International Relations at George Washington University