Public Info

County Freeholders Expand Second Chance Pilot Program Transitioning Parolees and Reducing Prison Recidivism

County Courthouse Union County NJEveryone deserves a “second chance.”

That’s why the County of Union will be expanding its successful Second Chance pilot program to assist a total of 100 parolees returning from Union County from state prisons to make a successful transition back into society, and reduce recidivism.

The expansion of the program is made possible through a $694,897 Second Chance Act Demonstration grant from the U.S Department of Justice. The grant is administered to the County through the New Jersey State Parole Board. The County and the New Jersey State Parole Board will implement an enhanced Second Chance Act Demonstration program in early fall 2016.  The initial Second Chance Act Demonstration Grant covered the period of 2013 – 2015 during which 75 parolees were engaged in the program.

“The question is: how do we get the positive outcomes that helps these individuals become productive citizens, reduces stress on the criminal justice system and makes our community safer? The answer is through programs such as Second Chance,” said Freeholder Chairman Bruce H. Bergen.

The Second Chance program is based upon a sustained case management model for individuals upon release, for up to six months.  Case managers will offer and facilitate family reunification and a variety of community based services will be leveraged to provide support to the parolees.

“This Freeholder Board strongly believes in the Second Chance initiative and supports social services that reduce recidivism,” said Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski, who serves as Freeholder Liaison to the Union County Human Services Advisory Board. “Various studies are continuing to show how important these programs are in rehabilitating former prisoners.”

An individualized case plan is developed pre-release with the parolees that reinforces partnerships with local nonprofits, faith-based groups and the Union County Re-Entry Task Force with community based organizations and advocacy groups working together to ensure a balanced transition to the community.

The Re-Entry Task Force was organized in 2006, under the guidance of the New Jersey State Parole Board, to develop resources, support systems and promote solutions to successfully help transition the re-entry population back into the Union County community.  In subsequent years the Re-Entry Task Force expanded its focus to include persons released from the county jail.

Task Force members include New Jersey State Parole Board, Union County Probation, New Jersey Department of Labor, Union County One Stop American Job Centers,  Federal Probation, Union County Drug Court, Union County Department of Human Services, Union County College, housing agencies, healthcare providers, various community agencies, faith based agencies, attorneys, businesses and the ex-offender population.   

The case plans will ensure that parole officers and case workers work closely with community-based stakeholders to meet immediate needs and assist offenders in making more permanent plans for their re-entry.

No participant will be released to a homeless shelter, as housing is a key component of the model.  As part of this effort, the Freeholder Board voted on July 21st to allocate $150,000 to the Urban League of Union County to secure temporary housing for participants of the Second Chance program.

 “At the State Parole Board, we believe re-entry begins at arrest. The overwhelming majority of these men and women will return to their communities one day and programs like Second Chance are proven ways to help them and make all of us safer,” said James T. Plousis, chairman of the Parole Board.

In addition to temporary housing, participants will receive counseling, employment assistance, job placement, and enrollment in training and education at the county college.  In addition to the State/County partnership, other agencies involved in the program include the Urban League of Union County, Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services, and Union County College.

Nationally, each year, more than 700,000 individuals are released from state and federal prison, while 9 million go through local jails.  Statistics indicate that more than two-thirds of prisoners are rearrested within three years of their release and half are re-incarcerated.  High rates of recidivism mean more crime, more victims, and more pressure on governmental institutions including jails and courts. 

In contrast to national statistics, New Jersey has been recognized by both The Sentencing Project and the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law for its efforts in reducing the state prison population by 31.4% since 1999, the largest decrease of any state in the nation.

Programs such as this Demonstration Project build upon New Jersey’s successful recidivism reduction initiatives by not only offer returning citizens a Second Chance, but increasing stability in local communities where former prisoners would otherwise return without an adequate support network.

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