Senate President Stephen Sweeney
Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli
Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro –  Former Gov. Jim McGreevey, Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-3rd District, and Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-31st District, as well as religious and community leaders on Wednesday took part in a forum presenting ways to improve reentry practices of former prisoners into society.

The group took special focus on a report by the New Jersey Reentry Services Commission and its recommendations to improve the delivery of reentry services and to enhance the ability of former offenders to maintain sobriety, healthy living and employment — all keys to successful reentry.

“Senate President Sweeney and Sen. Cunningham have been steadfast advocates for criminal justice reform and reentry,” said McGreevey, the chairman of the NJRC.

Sweeney, who sponsored the legislation creating the commission, and Cunningham, who served on the panel, have endorsed the report’s recommendations. Cunningham, who also supports the report’s findings, serves as co-chair of the commission.

“The successful reentry of former offenders is a proven way of reducing recidivism and improving their opportunities to be successful members of society,” said Sweeney. “We know that reentry can succeed, but we need to remove the barriers and provide the services that will allow people to make a success of their lives. Everyone deserves a second chance and we need to give them fair opportunities to succeed.”

The 102-page report features 100 action steps, including everything from health care to addiction treatment, housing, workforce training and the legal issues that many formerly incarcerated people face.

“While the state has taken significant strides in creating an environment conducive to the rehabilitation of individuals being released from prison, there continue to be significant barriers to successful reentry in health care, addiction, employment, legal services, and housing,” said Cunningham. “This report provides a blueprint for change that will help people succeed.”

Sweeney and Cunningham also spoke about social justice reforms already enacted by the Legislature, including landmark bail reform, “Ban the Box,” expungement reforms, limits on solitary confinement, and the law requiring independent prosecutors for police-involved fatalities.

Other actions Sweeney wants the Legislature to pursue were also addressed, including more expansive expungement reforms, juvenile justice reforms, voting rights for those on parole or probation and marijuana legalization.

The Democratic senators also referred to the recommendations of the Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission, established by the Legislature, as “significant steps forward” in delivering reforms to the justice system.

Senate President Sweeney with the NJ Coalition of Latino Pastors and Ministers on Dec. 4, 2019

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