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Lesniak-Cunningham Bill To Expand Employment Opportunities For Ex-Offenders Signed Into Law

Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, D-Union, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, speaks in favor of a bill which would authorize the Legislature to set Judicial pension contribution rates in order to preserve the fiscal integrity of the pension fund.

Lawmakers Say Access to Employment Reduces Recidivism, Encourages Rehabilitation

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Raymond J. Lesniak and Sandra Bolden Cunningham which will expand employment opportunities for certain ex-offenders in order to aid in their reentry into society was signed into law yesterday.

“If we’re serious about giving ex-offenders an opportunity to reclaim their lives from the cycle of crime and incarceration, then we have to recognize that the inability to find employment is one of the biggest factors contributing to the high recidivism rate in this State and around the country,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union. “If you’ve paid your debt to society, there is simply no reason why you should be banned from working in an establishment where alcohol is served. This law will create meaningful job opportunities for people trying to do the right thing and become productive members of society.”

“The only thing that has been accomplished by the prohibition from employment at venues where alcohol is served is that you have a number of ex-offenders who can’t find work, and many of whom will turn back to a life of crime,” said Senator Cunningham, D-Hudson. “We want to give people the chance to truly reform themselves, and that means that they need access to employment. I’m glad we’re finally addressing one of the root causes of recidivism – lack of employment – rather than stick to the relics of tough-on-crime policies which simply did not work.”

The new law permits certain ex-offenders to be employed by alcoholic beverage licensees, so long as they are not involved in the serving, selling, soliciting, mixing or handling of alcoholic beverages. The legislation excludes from its provisions sex offenders and people convicted of a crime while employed on a licensed premises. Ex-offenders will also be prohibited from providing private security or admission-monitoring services, and will be prohibited from providing or participating in any management or professional services.

Under previous law, a person convicted of any serious crime was disqualified from being employed by an alcoholic beverage licensee, unless they had received a Rehabilitation Employment Permit from the Director of the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The fee for such a permit was $125 annually, and permits could sometimes take a long time to be issued. Senators Lesniak and Cunningham noted that many alcoholic beverage licensees regularly employ people not involved in the serving or sale of alcoholic drinks, including cooks, janitors and dishwashers, in addition to live entertainment, including band members, singers and DJs. The sponsors noted that the prohibition from employment eliminated a large number of offenders, and the cost of obtaining a necessary permit to work was burdensome to many ex-offenders who had recently been released from incarceration.

“For many ex-offenders who’d just been released, the cost of work permits was simply too high, and for others, they may not have qualified for a work permit,” said Senator Cunningham. “This law streamlines the process, addressing the concerns of employers while still creating employment opportunities for ex-offenders. At the end of the day, it’s the right thing to do for people who want to make a concerted effort to put their criminal past behind them.”

According to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, getting ex-offenders into jobs has reduced recidivism rates. The report highlights a program run by the City of Newark – the Office of Reentry – which has placed over a thousand ex-offenders in private, unsubsidized jobs since its inception in 2009. According to the news report, while the New Jersey Department of Corrections estimates that 50 percent of ex-offenders will be rearrested for a crime within nine months, the Newark program has seen a rearrest rate of 29% — and program administrators say that figure may be inflated by arrests which do not lead to charges being pressed.

“Programs like Newark’s Office of Reentry demonstrate the power of job access in nearly halving the recidivism rate for program participants,” said Senator Lesniak. “This is backed up by real-world statistics – when ex-offenders are helped to find meaningful employment, they’re less likely to return to their criminal ways. I’m glad we’re taking this step to expand employment opportunities for ex-offenders, and I look forward to working with my legislative colleagues and the Governor to identify other ways in which we can spend State corrections dollars smarter, resulting in real, life-changing rehabilitation for ex-offenders.”

The bill was approved by a vote of 36-0 in the Senate in February, and received final legislative approval from the Assembly in June by a vote of 70-7.

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