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Forum Brings Focus on Value of Prisoner Re-Entry Program

Trenton-Area Program Funded by State Grants Shows Success in Guiding Prisoners into Society

(TRENTON) – At a policy forum on the value of prisoner re-entry programs, legislators program operators and participants talked about the success in reducing recidivism, bringing down prison populations and the costs of incarceration, and helping guide former prisoners back into society.

Senate President Steve Sweeney joined with Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, Assemblywoman Liz Muoio, Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson, Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, Kevin McHugh, the director of the Re-entry Coalition of New Jersey, the CEO & COO of Volunteers of America, a prisoner re-entry program operating in Trenton, and participants in the program to discuss the merits of the program.

The program is funded by a $750, 000 state grant secured by Senator Sweeney and Senator Shirley Turner. Half the funding has been used for start-up costs with the additional funds based on performance standards.

“Prisoner re-entry programs have proven successful in helping to break the link between unemployment, addiction and repeated incarceration,” said Senator Sweeney. “Those who get caught in this vicious cycle of substance abuse, joblessness and crime can be offered a way out through programs that provide treatment, job training and the ability to reintegrate into society, their home communities and their families. These programs help reduce crime, save money and support former offenders to live better lives.”

“Individuals released from incarceration should re-enter society knowing that there are opportunities for them. A life of crime doesn’t have to be their only path,” said Senator Turner (Hunterdon/Mercer). “These Community Programs are much cheaper and more valuable than prison. They save tax payers money and I’m proud that our state has taken steps to expand these community programs because it has reduced the number of citizens in our state prisons. People deserve the chance to make things right, and these community programs allows them that opportunity.”

“Many former inmates return from prison utterly isolated from their former lives,” said Assemblyman Gusciora (D-Hunterdon/Mercer). “With no social safety net, they have no choice but to return to the lifestyle and criminal activity that landed them in prison in the first place. Reentry programs help weave a new social safety net for these individuals, giving them the support, training and education necessary to rejoin society and become permanent, productive members.”

“The goal of any effective re-entry program should be to provide a path forward for those who have served their sentence and are struggling to rejoin and become productive members of society,” said Assemblywoman Muoio (D-Hunterdon/Mercer). “It is my hope that this program, along with those offered across the state, provide former inmates with the tools necessary to make this fresh start and direct them on a path to success.”

Volunteers of America Delaware Valley’s Re-Entry Services operates community-based, residential, reintegration-centered programs that utilize client-centered treatment programs that respond to the needs of individual clients. Job training and drug treatment are among the services provided.

“These are intervention programs that help provide participants with the knowledge and skills to function crime-free when they are reintegrated into society,” said County Executive Hughes. “They reduce recidivism, which helps reduce crime and the costs of the justice system. They also help former offenders become productive members of their communities.”

The funding to expand re-entry service was placed in the Department of Community Affairs’ budget by Senator Sweeney and Senator Turner. The Trenton program operates as a partnership between DCA and Volunteers of America. Senator Sweeney was also instrumental in securing funds for re-entry programs in South Jersey.

“We cannot simply let every person who makes a mistake, spend the rest of their lives paying for it,” said Mayor Jackson. “The burdens on our society, on our families, and on government would be too high. When a person enters the criminal justice system, it should be our top priority to help that person redirect their lives.”

“We want to thank the Senate President for his leadership,” said Daniel L. Lombardo, the president of Volunteers of America. “He is keenly aware of the importance of providing services to those that are reentering society from our jails and knows that New Jersey is, and will continue to be, on the forefront of this issue.”