Politico: Former N.J. governors endorse proposals to overhaul prisoner re-entry

By Katherine Landergan

09/06/2017 05:03 PM EDT
Updated 09/06/2017 07:44 PM EDT

NEWARK — Six former New Jersey governors endorsed a set of policy recommendations on Wednesday that are designed improve the prisoner re-entry process and could save the state tens of millions of dollars a year.

The New Jersey Reentry Corporation, a nonprofit, released a report that centers on overhauling health care, educational and career opportunities for former prisoners. Former Gov. Jim McGreevey, who heads the nonprofit, along with former governors Jon Corzine, Brendan Byrne, Tom Kean and Jim Florio, all of whom serve on the board, publicly endorsed the proposals. Former Gov. Donald DiFrancesco also backed the report.

“Re-entry arguably represents one of the few nonpartisan issues remaining in the nation,” McGreevey, a Democrat, said during a roundtable at the group’s offices in Newark. “The governors on this board represent both sides of the aisle and have made a personal and professional commitment to helping people restore their lives.”

Gov. Chris Christie did not attend Wednesday’s event, as he is not a board member, McGreevey said. However, McGreevey said the governor has been “tremendously supportive.”

The nonprofit estimates that enacting these policies would ultimately save New Jersey at least $189 million each year in reincarceration and emergency health care costs. McGreevey said the group will ask the next governor to adopt these proposals in the new administration.

Derek Roseman, a spokesman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy said in a statement that Murphy “welcomes the bipartisan consensus of the former governors and hopes to work with them on this issue as governor himself.”

Ricky Diaz, a spokesperson for Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, the Republican nominee, said in a statement that Guadagno will need to review the policies but that “she agrees with the goal of improving the prisoner re-entry process in the state and looks forward to working with them if elected.”

One key proposal is for the state to create a vocational pilot program for 210 former prisoners. The program would be available in six counties — Hudson, Essex, Gloucester, Camden, Middlesex and Union — and participants would receive a high school diploma and receive training in an industry. The report pegs the annual cost at about $11,000 per student, which is lower than the state average of $19,648 per student.

The three-year pilot program would cost about $2.3 million overall, an investment the report says could easily be covered by using funds the state doesn’t use from students who have dropped out of high school. The state saved $157 million for the 2015-16 school year alone from dropouts, funds that stay in the counties where those students attended school.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Florio, a Democrat, said about the vocational program proposal. “This is a model project that everybody should get behind.”

Another recommendation is for the establishment of a pilot health care program for participants in the vocational program. Teams of nurses, social workers and case managers would work with each participant to ensure they are getting the necessary care, according to the report.

According to the report, incarcerated people tend to have much higher rates of substance abuse, mental health or physical health issues compared to the general population. But, the report says, between one-third and one-half of those people are not treated for their conditions while in prison, and a majority do not have health insurance after their release. As a result, these people forgo preventative treatment and instead end up overusing costly emergency services for care.

The health care pilot program is expected to cost about $1.2 million for one year. But the nonprofit argues that giving these participants preventative care would help the save the state a significant amount in those expensive emergency services.

Read the full list of recommendations here.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include a statement from Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s campaign.

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