Public safety demands more than policing and prisons, including robust reentry services that support people returning home from incarceration. Reentry services are proven to reduce recidivism, improve neighborhood safety, and save the state money.[i] Without them, returning community members face unemployment, limited housing options and educational opportunities, and disconnection from society. Instead of building a holistic support system, however, Governor Murphy’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 continues a path of flat-funding for a patchwork of reentry programs, while law enforcement budgets receive millions in increased investment.
Due to the lack of reentry infrastructure, people leaving incarceration are released with little more than letters from friends, and without any support or even identification.[ii] The state largely relies on non-profit organizations for reentry, which the budget funds through the Department of Community Affairs. Thus, unless an individual is placed on parole, few services are available aside from those provided through non-profit organizations.[iii] Given that New Jersey has the highest Black-white disparity in incarceration in the country,[iv] the lack of a holistic reentry system is not just a humanitarian issue, but also an issue of racial justice.
The governor’s proposed budget for FY 2023 leaves reentry largely unchanged from the previous year. The budget adds $4 million to the New Jersey Locally Empowered, Accountable, and Determined (NJ LEAD) grants program, which provides funding to local non-profit organizations to enhance or expand services to people leaving prison.[v] The state also plans to use cannabis revenue for reentry, though it is unclear how much will actually be allocated for this purpose.
At the same time, the governor’s budget proposes $10 million in cuts to programs through the Department of Community Affairs. The result is flat or decreased funding for New Jersey’s reentry programs. Given the state’s record-setting, multi-billion-dollar surplus, this is a big opportunity missed to support residents returning from incarceration.
New Jersey’s budget proposal fails to invest in robust reentry services, non-police crisis response, or directly in communities most harmed by the pandemic. When this is taken into account with the announcement that millions of federal American Rescue Plan dollars would be used to fund state police, it illustrates New Jersey’s single-minded approach to public safety and an equitable pandemic recovery.[vi]
People returning from incarceration need support to thrive in their communities. The state should take a proactive approach to ensure that those reentering their communities have what they need to thrive, rather than depending on smaller non-profit organizations to pick up the slack.
[i] Urban Institute, John Roman et al. “Impact and CostBenefit Analysis of the Maryland Reentry Partnership Initiative” January, 2007. https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/46196/311421-Impact-and-Cost-Benefit-Analysis-of-the-Maryland-Reentry-Partnership-Initiative.PDF
[ii] New Jersey Monitor, Sophie Nieto-Munoz. “Early release for hundreds of ex-offenders across N.J.” February 11, 2022. https://newjerseymonitor.com/2022/02/11/early-release-for-hundreds-of-ex-offenders-across-n-j/
[iii] New York Times, Tracey Tully. “2,258 N.J. Prisoners Will Be Released in a Single Day,” November, 9 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/04/nyregion/nj-prisoner-release-covid.html
[iv] The Sentencing Project, Ashley Nellis, PhD. “The Color of Justice,” Pg. 21. 2021. https://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/The-Color-of-Justice-Racial-and-Ethnic-Disparity-in-State-Prisons.pdf
[v] New Jersey Office of Management and Budget. Summary of Governor’s Budget Recommendations: State of New Jersey FY2023 Budget in Brief, Pg. 42. March 8, 2022. https://www.nj.gov/treasury/omb/publications/23bib/BIB.pdf
[vi] New Jersey Monitor, Dana DiFilippo. “In reversal, New Jersey to again allow cops to chase car thieves,” February 11, 2022. https://newjerseymonitor.com/2022/04/29/n-j-reverses-policy-that-barred-cops-from-pursuing-stolen-vehicles/