Prisoner Reentry Program in New Jersey Gets $1M Grant to Help End 'Tragic Cycle' of Killings

By Noah Cohen

Officials on Thursday announced a Newark prisoner reentry program that will focus on providing services, including employment help and a social worker, to those at the highest risk of being perpetrators or victims of homicides in the state's largest city.

Mayor Ras Baraka, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr., unveiled the collaborative effort between the city and the Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice at a news conference hosted at the school. Funded by a $1 million federal Justice Department grant, the Newark Reentry Initiative will hone in on 75 high risk former inmates most likely to be involved in killings.

Baraka said the program would help end a "tragic cycle" of people being released from jail or prison and soon becoming involved in violence.

"We are trying to focus these dollars and create a system around individuals who are either victims of violence or perpetrators of violence as soon as they are released from prison," Baraka said at a news conference.

According to city data, about 84 percent of murder victims had a past history with the criminal justice system and 53 percent of homicide suspects were involved with the crimes within 12 months of being released from Essex County jail or state prison last year.

"Statistics show that individuals returning from incarceration to society are more likely to be involved in a homicide as perpetrators or victims within their first year of release," the mayor added.

Speaking at the news conference, Booker credited Baraka with championing the effort and pushing for the federal funding.

"If our cities can't succeed, America can't succeed," Booker said.

Through the grant, officials will work with Rutgers to identify individuals facing release from prison who are at a highest risk for violence. They will recruit participants for the initiative and begin providing the services next October, the city said.

The program will provide case managers, social workers, mentors, transitional employment, mental health assistance, and job placement help to those enrolled. The Rutgers School of Criminal Justice will also evaluate the program in its second and third years.

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