Act Aims to Keep Inmates Out of Jail After Release

No one gets out of jail free. Without wrap around support services a majority of the 10,000 inmates released each year are re-arrested and four in 10 return to prison. State lawmakers are scheduled to vote on a bill designed to help ex-convicts succeed in life on the outside. Anchor Mary Alice Williams recently spoke to one of the sponsors of the Earn Your Way Out Act, Assemblyman Shavonda Sumter. She spoke with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams.

Williams: How would the plan work?

Sumter: The plan would work by assigning someone to work with the inmate, low-level offenses, so that they don’t end up back incarcerated and it would save millions of dollars.

Williams: There are restrictions on this — sex offenders, murders wouldn’t be part of this.

Sumter: Correct. It’s for low-level, nonviolent offenders that we’re talking about working with. They would earn credit for actually doing well while in prison, actually following through with rehabilitative steps and we would actually have corrections officer and parole officers working with them.

Williams: And what resources would be available to them?

Sumter: So what we’re talking about doing is having someone to work with them, similar to case management. Oftentimes we’re saying released, go into the world and be successful after you’ve been in a controlled environment. And the tools — I’m in behavior health — for coping, for learning how to live on the outside are not yet sharpened so we really want to partner them with someone, with different agencies and officers who will work with them so that they can be successful on the outside.

Williams: And it’s housing, job, a community?

Sumter: Housing, job, community approach, also making sure that they have the proper identification so that they can be successful.

Williams: The bill would also require a division of re-entry and rehabilitation services. Where would the money coming from?

Sumter: We’re talking about moving monies from the Department of Corrections to go into this program. We’re also talking about saving dollars because you will not have people housed in prison, so this is truly ending that mass incarceration so we would save dollars on funding a person, 24/7 care and the penitentiary to the tune of possibly $69 million within two years.

Williams: Gov. Christie has been a huge proponent of drug courts and criminal justice reform. Former Gov. McGreevey has opened re-entry programs. Are you riding a wave of there’s a movement toward this, right?

Sumter: There is a movement towards it, which I’m proud to be a part of as something that part of my passion in legislative work that I’m happy to be a part of. We really need to focus on how we’re going to successfully have folks come back into our communities, especially for those low-level offenders. And really then those funds can go towards some of our priorities that include education, that includes affordable housing, that includes making sure that they are a successful member of society and reunited with their families.

Williams: The bill has made it out of committee. What is the likelihood that it passes the entire Legislature?

Sumter: My hope is that it will be bipartisan support. We had great discussion in the Legislature this week around the bill. It’s unfortunate, I wish people with low-level offenses did not go to jail, that there were more rehab programs, but sometimes that’s the pathway that they get caught in but it shouldn’t be a life trap. So this will at least give the persons an opportunity to have a successful chance at rehabilitation and it’s not just words that we use.

Williams: Let me change the subject on you. You name has been bandied about as someone who might consider running for governor. Are you doing it?

Sumter: Well, I’m still, I decided not to do it but to look at making sure that my work continues, that I’m successful in the Legislature with making sure that we’re moving New Jersey forward. I’m committed to making sure that we have someone in the executive office, a Democrat preferably, that will work with me as a partner to make sure that we build upon the steps that we’ve been making in the Legislature.

Williams: Lieutenant governor? You think I’m going to let go, don’t you?

Sumter: [Laughs]. I will not shy away from the opportunity to serve in the executive branch. I’m honored that my name is still circulating. I’m honored that my work is respected, but I’ll continue to work for New Jerseyans because that’s what I’ve been tasked with doing right now.

Williams: Shavonda Sumter, thank you.

Sumter: Thank you for having me.