New Jersey officials tout smart criminal justice approach that leads to results

Over the past 15 years, New Jersey has seen significant reductions in its recidivism, prison population and crime rates, according to recent testimony from New Jersey State Parole Board’s Chairman James Plousis and Vice Chairman Samuel Plumeri Jr.

The remarks were made during testimony to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, and highlight the New Jersey State Parole Board’s efforts to implement smart criminal justice programs and policies that have a measurable effect on the state’s offender population.

In 2015, the State Parole Board was chosen by the National Institute of Corrections and the Association of Paroling Authorities as the first parole board in the nation to participate in a complete evaluation of agency operations “to assess the performance of state paroling authorities through an evaluation of evidence-based practices,” Chairman Plousis said.

Such operations include a number of community resource and residential programs aimed at helping parolees successfully reenter their communities in an ongoing effort to reduce recidivism and the parole revocation rate. These programs include Community Resource Centers, of which there are 10 in the state, and Residential Reentry programs.

As a committed partner since 1998, GEO Reentry Services operates half of the CRCs as well as a residential reentry center in Newark for the State Parole Board.

According to the testimony from Chairman Plousis and Vice-Chairman Plumeri, community programs helped to reduce overall recidivism rates in the state from 48 percent to 32 percent from 1999 to 2015. During the same period, there was a 31 percent reduction in the prison population—the best in the nation.

“Through the collective efforts with the New Jersey Department of Corrections, New Jersey is widely recognized as a national leader in the reduction of recidivism and reducing its prison population,” Chairman Plousis told the committee.

The use of smart programming has also contributed positively toward the corrections department budget. According to Vice Chairman Plumeri, the New Jersey Department of Corrections has seen a 7.4 percent decrease in total expenditures from FY 2010 to FY 2015, representing an $80.6 million decrease.

As the trend continues, the department’s FY 2017 state budget is $962.5 billion, a $6.4 million decrease from FY 2016. “We continue to operate safer, smarter facilities with reduced violence, and the percentage of inmates returning to prison is at an all-time low,” Vice Chairman Plumeri said.

Further, while incarceration rates are down, crime rates have not increased, and instead have fallen 20 percent from 2011 to 2014.

While a combination of community programs and smarter corrections practices are positively influencing criminal justice trends in the state, data indicates that Community Resource Centers were the most used community program from FY 2012-2015, according to statistics from the State Parole Board.

Between that time period, 1,851 participants were referred to CRCs and reported the lowest recidivism rate of any community program—20.8 percent. CRC participants also had the lowest revocation rate of the community programs at 34 percent.

Residential community programs also posted impressive recidivism rates amongst their participants, including the Stages to Enhance Parolee Success Program (STEPS) and Reentry Substance Abuse Program (RESAP) participants—populations the Newark Residential Reentry Center serves. The programs reported recidivism rates of 28.2 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

GEO Reentry-operated CRCs are located in Atlantic City, Elizabeth, Neptune City, Perth Amboy and Vineland. Each GEO Reentry-run center, which can accept 50 participants at a time, provides programming so participants gradually master the pro-social skills they need to maintain a crime-free life. Programming includes life skills training, intensive employment and job skills and cognitive behavioral therapy, which gets to the core of criminal behavior.

The Newark Residential Reentry Center, located at 224 Sussex Ave. in Newark, provides similar programming but in a more structured environment that includes closed-circuit security cameras and an electronic sign in/out system for resident accountability. As a residential program services are offered seven days a week, and there is a modified therapeutic community which supplements the cognitive programming for those addressing substance abuse.

The combination of services at GEO Reentry-run centers is designed to help participants successfully reintegrate into their communities and reduce the likelihood of returning to the criminal justice system.

The State Parole Board should be commended for its excellent work in promoting public safety and the rehabilitation of offenders, and community programs have been shown to be an integral part of the state’s criminal justice approach. GEO Reentry is proud to support the state’s efforts and looks forward to continued collaboration.