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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Program gives inmates chance to stay clean

TRENTON - New Jersey is in the midst of an ambitious pilot program to find out what combination of services works best at keeping ex-inmates from returning to state prisons.

The $2 million program, called Another Chance, is part of the state's stepped-up effort to lessen the percentage of ex-cons who re-enter state prison. It's also a key component of Gov. Corzine's strategy to combat gang and gun violence.

The  pilot program offers a range of social, job and medical services to 1,300 people with criminal convictions, then tracks the results.

Shavar Jeffries, who is overseeing re-entry programs until a permanent director comes on board this month, said data are being collected from newly admitted prisoners, those about to leave prison, and some on parole.

Every year in New Jersey, 14,000 adults and 1,600 juveniles are released from correctional facilities. As many as 65 percent of the adults will be re-arrested within five years, and 37 percent of juveniles will return to correctional facilities within two years.

The pilot program is limited to four prisons - Northern State, Garden State Youth Correctional Facility, Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, and Riverfront State - and to releasees returning to Camden, Newark and Trenton.

Inmates and parolees in the program can receive an array of services including job training and behavioral therapy, anger management, and parenting classes.

It begins with a diagnostic assessment, so services are customized to each person's needs. Those in the pilot are divided into three groups: newly admitted prisoners, who receive a full range of services; those who will be released within nine months, who get a discharge plan and are lined up to receive services once released; and those on parole, who receive only post-release services.

The idea is to collect data on all groups "so we can connect with what really works to reduce recidivism," said Jeffries.

New Jersey is "ahead of the curve" when it comes to reducing recidivism, said Jeffries, who said only Michigan and Kansas address the problem as comprehensively. [Mark Godsey]

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