McGreevey Says America Is ‘Doing Incarceration Wrong’

In part three of his interview, former Gov. Jim McGreevey spoke extensively on the subject of ex-offender reentry into society. He told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that employment opportunities must be made available to ex-offenders or risk their return to prison.

The former governor had high praise for the current governor’s policy to expand drug court to all 21 counties, so that nonviolent offenders with drug problems can get treatment. In fact, Gov. Christie named McGreevey to a state task force on opiate addiction. The task force, he said, held hearings throughout the state where he heard “awful” stories of young men who became addicted to prescription drugs prescribed by a doctor for a sports injury.

McGreevey said he spent most of his time in a pilot program that was taking individuals who would normally be ineligible for drug court.

“Gov. {Christie] is saying, ‘we’re going to track you for five years — for five years you’re going to be under the auspices of drug court, we’re going to monitor your urine, we’re going to make sure you do what you say you’re going to do in terms of your work product, in terms of appearing before drug court, the superior court in terms of your work history, we’re going to be actively part of your life to try and change that,” McGreevey explained. “I’m proud of the fact that this governor is trying to change that and I’m proud of the fact that this governor taken that action.”

McGreevey argued that if drug addition is the main cause of 70 percent of the prison population, treatment for the disease must be part of the prisoner’s rehabilitation.

“If you’re sending somebody away for 12 years, seven years, tied to narcotics and you don’t treat them at all for those seven years and then they get our and go back to the same gang and engage in the same behavior, you haven’t accomplished all that much. You just delayed it.”

Although the United States is only 5 percent of the world’s population, it has 25 percent of the world’s prison population, placing it number one above Russia and Rwanda, said McGreevey.

Simply put, “we’re doing incarceration wrong,” he said. “The smart thing is to say, ‘let’s treat people for addiction and also let’s give people the means to be productive citizens.”

The best social program in the world, especially for those released from prison, McGreevey said, is a job. The obstacles for ex-offenders in finding employment isn’t coming just from private employers.

“I work with young men coming out of Hudson County and they want to work in a public works department or the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, they want to be longshoremen,” he said. “Unfortunately, the Port Authority has a restriction on hiring people with felony convictions that have nothing to do with terrorism.”

According McGreevey, if society is serious about turning ex-offenders from public wards into productive citizens, it needs to lift some of the impediments which prevent that transformation from happening.

“The irony is that you’re condemning that person to continue to perpetuate that criminal behavior,” he said.”So part of it, as employers, as civil society, we have to recognize that people make mistakes but we can’t permanently define them by that point of their existence if we’re sincere about them joining civil society.”