LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Evaluating Prisoner Re-entry Program

By Michael Hill
Correspondent

When Steven Lamancusa maxed out of prison by serving his full sentence for a gun conviction, he left with no probation or parole supervision and learned the hard way that New Jersey offers no re-entry services to such inmates.

“So how do people expect me to do good when nobody gives me a chance?” he asked.

But, Steven found out about Volunteers of America’s 12 re-entry programs and got housing and a full-time job detailing cars at a limo service.

“Now I’m doing the right thing and I feel great about myself,” he said.

“We always complain, why do people keep going back to jail? Well, because we don’t do enough to help them not,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.

Sweeney and others secured the $750,000 grant to launch the VOA’s Trenton-area re-entry program. Today, he hosted a roundtable to find out how it’s helping ex-offenders.

“I’m in another program which is keeping me clean from using marijuana and alcohol,” said Hiawatha Ross.

 “The gentleman took me to ShopRite in Princeton and the very first day the human resources manager hired me,” said Tony Allen.

“Last year alone we served over 2,200 people coming out of state prison who were on parole. We placed 700 people in employment. Almost 120 people went to college, 126 ended up in vocational training,” said Patricia McKernan, COO of Volunteers of America Delaware Valley.

While advocates and state lawmakers say New Jersey leads the nation in reducing its prison population, they say there’s so much more that needs to be done to stop the revolving door.

“When you max out, you have no access to those services. Recent Pew Center research says they commit three times as many crimes as people on parole supervision. They come out, they don’t have access to services. They have the obstacles,” said Kevin McHugh, executive director of the Re-entry Coalition of New Jersey.

Sweeney asked why.

“Well, Because you’re done with them,” McHugh said.

“No, but, is it something we need to do?” Sweeney asked.

McHugh said yes and Volunteers of America Delaware Valley President and CEO Daniel Lombardo said, “Yes. It’s a policy issue. Yes, by legislation you could.”

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora said, “The Department of Corrections just opens the door and says ‘See you later.’”

The Senate approved a bill to give released recovering addicts Medicaid but the bill never made it out of assembly. Sweeney said it could go to a simple vote on the Assembly floor.

One lawmaker says when he was in municipal court, he saw first-hand how outstanding fines and fees hinder re-entry.

“They could never get their license unless they settle those fines. We were able to get the fines and surcharges vacated but he just happened to meet a legislator in court,” Gusciora said.

Court is something Steven Lamancusa says he doesn’t want to see again. He says through social media he’s reconnected with his 25-year-old daughter and after six stints in prison there’s nothing he would do to jeopardize that reconnection or going to visit her in Chicago.

“My outlook on life is like 360,” he said.