N.J. Jail Was Only One In The State To Get Grant To Help Inmates Get Jobs
BRIDGETON — Recidivism is one of the greatest problems faced by law enforcement officials.
An inmate gets out of jail, gets back in trouble and is again behind bars.
Cumberland County has been working to stem that tide and the effort has received a major boost with the award of a $500,000 Workforce PRO grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.
“Many in the general public look at jails as a place where we merely discard individuals deemed unfit to live in society. A place of hopelessness where many believe we lock the doors, throw away the keys. Out of one’s sight out of one’s mind …..,” said Cumberland County Warden Richard Smith.
“We come today to tell you a different story. One of redemption, one of renewal, one of hope.”
In a ceremony Friday outside the jail in downtown Bridgeton, officials said only 11 of the Workforce PRO grants were awarded this year in the U.S. and only one in New Jersey — Cumberland County.
The main goal of the program is to have ex-inmates get jobs and turn their lives around and not return to jail.
The Cumberland County Jail currently has just under 400 inmates. Of those, 100 are eligible to take part in the expanded programs offered through the Cumberland County Department of Workforce Development through its specialized American Job Center initiative funded by the new grant.
According to Smith, the grant will allow for the hiring of five staff members — three teaching inmates life skills, resume writing techniques and interviewing skills. The other two staff members will serve as job coaches working with employers on the outside to line up work for the inmates.
“We want to try to marry the inmates with employment prior to them being released,” Smith said.
The American Job Center initiative inside the jail will complement the Steps to Freedom Program, a therapeutic drug and alcohol rehabilitation program that addresses the addiction problems of inmates. That program was initiated by retired Warden Bob Balicki.
“You’re dealing with addiction, you’re helping them to become job-ready, you’re reconnecting them with their families,” Smith said of program participants.
Once the inmates leave the jail, they will continue to be able to take advantage of the Workforce Development programs offered at its Cumberland County College location, said executive director Allison Spinelli.
“This grant opportunity is another really good example of how our agencies can work together for a positive result,” Freeholder Director Joe Derella said. “The specialized American Job Center initiative will provide our inmates with meaningful services that will prepare them for successful re-entry into the community. ”
“Too many times we are reactive rather than taking a proactive approach to a positive outcome,” said Cumberland County Freeholder Carol Musso who helped secure the federal funds.
Along with the Department of Workforce Development, other partners in the new jail program include Stronger Families, Pascale Sykes Foundation, Give Something Back Foundation, Temple Vision, United Advocacy Group, Cumberland County College, Bridgeton Police Athletic Leagues and the Greater Bridgeton Family Success Center.”
The jail had offered some job-training programs, but nothing on the scale now possible.
One of the success stories of the jail’s efforts in preparing inmates for life back on the outside is Benny Negron, 24, of Vineland. He spoke at Friday’s ceremony, tell those there that he had sold drugs because of what he described as an “addiction to fast money.”
Thanks to the jobs-training program already offered to him while incarcerated, he was released and had a full-time work already secured.
He proudly said Friday he’s been at the job for more than a year. He’s also enrolled at Cumberland County College, studying mechanical engineering.
“It makes me feel accomplished knowing I am doing everything right,” Negron said.
Smith hopes with this new grant and new partnerships there will be more success stories like the one Negron is now living.