Christie Announces New Initiative To Help Offenders Re-Enter Society

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Gov. Chris Christie holds a press conference to announce the Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative at the Cathedral Kitchen in Camden on Monday. (Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)

CAMDEN – Building on New Jersey’s existing prisoner re-entry, rehabilitation and prevention programs, Gov. Chris Christie today outlined an initiative to help more offenders get the support they need to successfully re-enter society, break the cycle of criminality and lead productive lives.

The Governor’s re-entry initiative includes the expansion of the state’s Drug Court Program, the appointment of a Governor’s Office Re-entry Coordinator, the creation of a Governor’s Task Force on Recidivism Reduction, an ongoing program assessment, and the development of a real time recidivism database. These changes will allow New Jersey’s re-entry and rehabilitation efforts and programs to work together, to be guided and properly resourced based on results, and to ensure effective programs are expanded to serve as many individuals as possible.

Christie outlined this cross-departmental initiative at Cathedral Kitchen, a community service organization that serves meals to those in need in Camden. Cathedral Kitchen operates a culinary arts program which gives job training to unemployed, unskilled, homeless citizens, re-entering prisoners and parolees, helping them transition to a successful, productive life once they are out of prison.

“New Jersey has a strong record of helping rehabilitate offenders and providing the services they need to be successful in society, significantly decreasing their likelihood of reoffending and improving public safety,” said Christie. “But we can do better to make our re-entry programs more efficient, successful and effective – helping even more individuals get the support they need to change their lives for the better and break the cycle of offending and reoffending.”

State Senator Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union) called the governor’s announcement “a good first step” but said that more could be done.

“While the governor’s plan creates a pilot program mandating drug court for certain offenders, we should further increase the breadth of this successful operation by expanding the judicial and prosecutorial discretion for admission for offenders into drug courts who do not currently qualify,” Lesniak said. “The state should also take a page from Union County, which has used the drug court model to successfully implement a mental health court.

“We should expand programs such as the Middlesex County Adult Substance Abuse Program, which provides drug and alcohol abuse treatment to qualified county inmates and should reconsider initiatives such as the ‘Earn Your Way Out’ program, which offers non-violent addicts an intensive six-month prison-education and treatment program that would cut their sentence by two years,” the senator added.

New Jersey spends over $225 million, not including over $40 million for the Drug Court Program, on its system of various re-entry and prevention programs across state government, but it is done in a decentralized manner with no mechanism to implement these resources strategically or measure program performance.

Existing programs like the Drug Court Program, which serves as an alternative to incarceration for drug-addicted, nonviolent offenders, have already been effective in reducing recidivism rates among those they serve.

According to their October 2010 Drug Court Report, the rate at which drug court graduates are re-arrested for a new indictable offense is 16% and the reconviction rate is 8%. This is compared to re-arrest rates for drug offenders released from prison that stands at 54% with a re-conviction rate of 43%. According to that report, an average institutional cost per inmate is approximately $38,900, whereas the cost for an active drug court participant is roughly $11,379.

The Governor’s initiative will focus additional resources on this successful, demonstrably effective program and allow others to be similarly identified and prioritized to further reduce recidivism with programs that work.

Connecting offenders with the services they need to be successful back in society, whether it is recovery from substance abuse or the need for official identification, is critical to ending the cycle of crime. At present, a joint program between the state Department of Corrections and Motor Vehicles Commission (MVC) identifies qualified offenders on a quarterly basis, who are taken to MVC offices to obtain a driver’s license or non-driver identification card prior to the completion of their sentence. This program takes down impediments to successful re-entry resulting from the lack of official identification, which is often necessary to apply for a job, obtain housing, or connect with critical services like Medicare or food assistance.

“This initiative will build on our strengths by expanding highly successful programs like the Drug Court Program to get addicted offenders the underlying help they need, while also measuring and reforming or eliminating ineffective programs, and directing our resources in a smart, strategic and coordinated way to those programs that are making a positive difference in changing lives,” said Christie.


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