Each year, more than 700,000 people are released from state and federal prisons and another 9 million cycle through local jails. Statistically, half of them will be back in jail within three years. Former Gov. Jim McGreevey is out to end the recidivism rate and arrange a smooth re-entry into society for ex-offenders. He is the executive director of the Jersey City Employment and Training Program and he told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that people who are imprisoned need addiction treatment, transitional housing and job training for when they return to society.
“Seventy percent of the people behind bars are addicts and if you don’t do anything to treat them for their addiction while they’re behind bars, literally they’re just tolling time. Then they come back out onto the streets and they’re gonna run and they’re gonna gun and they’re gonna dope,” McGreevey said. “I think [Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop's] perspective is they have to treat people if possible in jail and in prison but if not as soon as they’re released.”
Transitional housing is the second aspect to help former inmates. “If you’re an addict and if you’re an ex-offender and you have a job that you’re just holding pace with the economy, you can’t afford it,” said McGreevey of housing. “So this is where the state and particularly Hudson County’s been very supportive of transitional housing from nine months to 18 months.”
Employment training is the third piece of the program. According to McGreevey, Jersey City has the 15th largest downtown in America with ongoing development. The city is requiring developers to hire Jersey City residents, minorities and women in order for them to secure abatements, which are favorable tax policies. “During this construction boom, we’re able to get ex-offenders into that construction market,” he said.
The program is moving to the Martin Luther King Boulevard neighborhood, which McGreevey said is “arguably the most neglected and where there’s a substantial number of ex-offenders.” He hopes the move will benefit those individuals and provide one facility for all their needs.
“It’s gonna be one stop shopping and we believe it’s gonna be a model. Our program is one of two programs in the country that is still funded by the United States Department of Justice Second Chance Program,” McGreevey said. “And this is gonna be one stop. An ex-offender’s gonna be able to walk into that building, to get housing, to get drug treatment and training and a job.”
While some may not want this type of facility in their neighborhoods, McGreevey said support for the program has come from Democrats and Republicans. “Nationally and the state of New Jersey recognizes our prison system as it is is an abysmal failure,” he said. He said the system is expensive and two-thirds of people released from prison commit a serious crime within three years.
“What we’re trying to do is break that cycle by providing them housing, addiction treatment and employment and training. And we’re working with mayors literally across the aisle. Mayor Baraka in Newark, Mayor Torres in Paterson, Mayor Kelaher in Toms River,” said McGreevey. “Wherever you have problems of addiction and crime, people have a yearning to do this better.”