For most people getting out of prison reintegration can be a nightmarish experience. Although free from prison, the reentrant is not free of the obstacles one faces when one is a convicted felon. Finding safe and affordable housing, employment, food, clothing or transportation, can be difficult. Even re-establishing connections with family can be complicated. Without support, many formerly returning citizens end back in prison.
Fortunately, many city and town leaders recognize that more needs to be done to reduce recidivism while also promoting public safety. Prisoner reintegration programs are springing up across the country. One in New Haven, CT, and another in Jersey City, NJ offer support to those with a criminal history who are seeking to turn their lives around.
New Haven has the only municipal prisoner reentry program in the state. Created by former mayor John Destefano, the New Haven Prisoner Reentry Initiative has undergone a metamorphosis under newly elected mayor Toni Harp. Now called Project Fresh Start, the name suggests hope for the future.
At a press Conference on March 3, it was announced that Project Fresh Start will use metrics to determine the needs of each person reintegrating back to the New Haven community. Metrics will allow Project Fresh Start staff members to more effectively connect future reentrants to the right resources. Also, Project Fresh Start is collaborating with community and faith-based mentors to counsel prisoners before they are released.
On March 4, at the Quinnipiac East Management Team (QEMT) community meeting, Beatice Codianni, the acting chairperson of QEMT, and Reentry Central’s managing editor, asked Harp to comment on Project Fresh Start. The mayor proclaimed, “We can’t keep people locked up forever. Most are going to get out sooner or later, and when they do, we have to be there to support them.” Harp added that Project Fresh Start is different because it established a relationship between the Connecticut Commissioner of Corrections to find out the names prisoners who will be released back to New Haven, and those individuals will be visited six months prior to their release by Project Fresh Start to work on identifying their weaknesses. The goal is to connect reentrants to the appropriate resources when they get out. She gave as an example, someone with on-going addiction problems would be connected with a drug treatment program. Visits to inmates by the project’s staff and by mentors before they are released are designed to help get them started on the right track.
Harp also said that depending on an inmate’s security level it can cost between $20,000 and $60,000 a year to house him or her, and that the money spent on incarceration could be better spent on other things such as education and job development.
Harp told those at the QEMT meeting that “…as a community we have an obligation to help those who want to turn their lives around.”
Jason Bartlett, New Haven’ s Youth Services director, will do double duty as Project Fresh Start’s director until a permanent director can be found. To learn more about Project Freah Start click here to go to website.
Meanwhile, 87 miles and two states away, Jersey City, NJ has launched its own reentry program. According to the Jersey Journal the program also kicked off on March 3 by connecting four formerly incarcerated persons to the Jersey City Employment & Training Program (JCETP), run by former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey. Both McGreevy and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop believe that by providing formerly incarcerated person with the tools they need to find gainful employment, the likelihood of returning to prison will diminish.
These tools, the Jersey Journal reports ,include “…learn(ing) how to create a resume, how to dress for a job interview and how to answer a prospective employer’s inevitable question, “Were you ever convicted of a crime?” The program participants will also receive one-on-one counseling.
Both Fulop and McGreevy invite interested parties to the “Prison Reentry: Breaking the Cycle” conference to be held on April 17 at St. Peter’s University in Jersrey City. The announcement for the conference touts the event as focusing on successful reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals and “the attempt to design a plan for local and regional reentry efforts.” Expected to speak at the conference are United States Attorney Paul Fishman, former NBA player Jayson Williams, United States Magistrate Judge, Madeline Arleo, Hudson County Warden, Oscar Aviles, and Professor and Provost from Rutgers University, Todd Clear. For more information on JCETP and the conference click here to go to website.
While New Haven and Jersey City may be miles apart physically, ideologically, when it comes to reintegration, they are on the same page.