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Senate Approves Sweeney-Cunningham Bill To Boost Reentry Services

Trenton – The Senate today approved legislation authored by Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Sandra Cunningham that would expand the scope of support services for the reentry of former offenders.

The bill, S-2953, would update the state’s “Fair Release and Reentry Act of 2009,” which has proven successful in aiding the transition of inmates released from state prisons. Under this measure, the provisions of the Act would be extended to include those from county correctional facilities. It would also extend the post-release timeframe for qualifying for reentry services and facilitate access to health care and emergency services.

“These services have proven to be successful at state facilities, and that success is ample proof that we need to expand the scope to include counties,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “If we want to give former offenders a fair opportunity at a second chance, we have to help address the obstacles to their successful reentry into society. This can make a real difference in the lives of men and women who are returning to their families and communities to become productive members of society.”

“This bill will help to address the significant obstacles faced by county inmates in obtaining what can be life-sustaining benefits when they are released from incarceration,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “One of the biggest barriers facing the reentry community upon release is lack of photo identification, which is needed to apply for general assistance, housing or employment. I’m pleased that county inmates will now also have ready access to this vital material, just as those being released from state facilities do.”

The current law ensures that within 10 days of their release state inmates are provided various documents, information, and other items critical to their reentry efforts. These are crucial to obtain food stamps, cash assistance and temporary emergency housing under the state’s general assistance program, and Medicaid, including behavioral health services such as addiction treatment and mental health care.

The bill would require county facilities to issue these same documents to individuals who have been incarcerated for 90 days or more, matching the current requirement for state inmates. It would require that individuals be given a supply of prescription medication upon release, a 90-day supply for long-acting injectables and a 30-day supply for all other prescriptions.  The measure also includes a requirement that social service organizations be notified in advance to help arrange reentry services upon release.

The legislation was praised by a leading reform advocate.

“This legislation is of extreme importance to providing persons released from prison and jail with the tools to survive in the first thirty days after release,” said former Governor Jim McGreevey, Chairman, New Jersey Reentry Corporation. “If you are released from prison without food, shelter, medicine, and a recognized identification, in order to survive there is little recourse but return to crime. I am most grateful to the Senate President and Senator Cunningham for believing in second chances, but more importantly, providing state and federal services so that people have the opportunity to do ‘the next right thing’.”

The measure would also amend the law to require the issuance of a benefits card to obtain support from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Work First New Jersey program.

Senator Cunningham emphasized the importance of arranging benefits in advance of inmates’ release. To ensure that there is no delay in acquiring necessary services, corrections officials would be required to complete, on behalf of inmates, applications for enrollment in social service programs.

The measure also eliminates the provision in current law that prohibits those convicted of an offense involving the use, possession, or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance from receiving Work First New Jersey benefits.

The bill was released from the Senate by a vote of 34-4.