You commit a crime, you spend time in prison and then you get released.

But what happens next?

Many times former inmates have difficulty adjusting to life on the outside, finding a job or a place to live. So they fall back into a life of crime.

But one New Jersey lawmaker has a plan to change this vicious cycle from continuing. State Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, is sponsoring the Earn Your Way Out Act.

She said measure calls for the Department of Corrections to establish a Division of Reentry and Rehabilitative Services and set up a program to help orient those being released from custody.

“What happens in many cases is people come in, they serve their time and then they leave but they don’t have the information that they need to begin a new life," she said.

Under her legislation, each inmate would get an individualized reentry plan that would include “a list of places where they could find housing, appropriate medication that they need, a place to find jobs.”

She noted right now they usually leave prison with no real idea of what they’ll do next or where they’ll go.

“Every inmate who comes in should sit down with someone when it’s close to time for them to leave to actually come up with a plan," she said. “If they leave incarceration with some sort of plan they can integrate into society a lot easier and a lot faster.”

The legislation also calls for a program that would give inmates “an opportunity, if they followed all the rules and have no infractions, to gain credits while they’re incarcerated so they can be paroled a little earlier.”

Under current law, an inmate is released on parole when they reach parole eligibility unless they have committed infractions or there is concern the inmate will violate conditions of parole if released.

The Earn Your Way Out Act provides that an inmate will be administratively released on parole at the time of primary parole eligibility if they have not been convicted of a violent crime or a Megan’s Law sexual offense.

To be eligible for administrative release, the inmate cannot have committed any prohibited acts at the time of incarceration and they complete rehabilitation programs while behind bars.

The bill enables all eligible individuals to earn compliance credits. Under the measure, the prisoner’s term would be reduced by five days for each month the parolee remains in compliance with the conditions of parole and does not commit a serious or persistent infraction.

Cunningham pointed out the “Ban the Box” legislation passed a few years ago ensures former inmates can’t be asked what their criminal record is until after the interview period is over, which enables someone to demonstrate they are ready for employment. But many individuals are released from prison with no skills and no idea where to go, so more must be done to help them succeed.

She added this approach will not only help the individual trying to create a new chapter in their life, it will also cut down on recidivism.

The measure has passed the Senate and is being considered in the Assembly, along with several amendments.


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