“If only” seemed to be the most widespread comment in the past decade.
“If only we could keep her out of the emergency room,” said hospital administrators. “If only we could find shelter for them,” said social workers. “If only they had skills,” said potential employers. “If only they could get clean,” said addiction specialists. “If only I could get help,” said the inmates.
Everyone knew what to do, but it would take them all, and the task seemed overwhelming.
Meanwhile, the county jail has become almost a mental health facility with no opportunity to help anyone improve. Prisoners got out, but they were no better.
According to Ron Edwards, director of the Hudson County Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the majority of those detained are repeat offenders convicted of minor offenses such as: B. Failure to pay child support, shoplifting, or no-show. Many have chronic health or addiction problems, no stable family life, few skills and little motivation to find and keep a job. They cycle in and out of jail costing taxpayers more than $ 1,000 a week.
A decade ago, representatives from Integrity House, one of the most successful drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers in New Jersey, agreed to open a branch in the Hudson County Corrections Center in Kearny. They informed the district officials of plans to help inmates overcome their addictions before they were released.
When County Exec Tom DeGise asked, “What happens then?” The “if only” started again, but this time most of the real people were in the same room and solid plans were being made. DeGise appointed Frank Mazza as director of housing and community integration and empowered him to work with all health and housing authorities, the human resource development program, and anyone else who might be needed.
I recently met with DeGise, Mazza, Oscar Aviles, Assistant County Administrator, and Edwards to inquire about the state of affairs. I asked, “If I were sentenced to, say, six months in prison, what could I expect?”
First, they said, I would meet with a therapist and doctor almost upon arrival for a risk assessment of my mental and physical health and general abilities. I would be encouraged to attend sessions at the Integrity House, sign up for skills training courses, and seek spiritual counseling. I would be assigned a case manager to help me with all of these things and to keep me motivated.
When deemed ready, I would meet with a housing counselor, and when I did not have decent accommodation, I would be assigned to one of 162 beds reserved across the county for inmates for reintegration into society. I would probably stay there for 90 days or so before I could pay the rent on my own apartment. The one stop shop in the jail would have helped me find a job, and this ankle cuff I had to wear would show everyone how reliable I was at work, sober and on time, ready to get my job done.
I had a Medicaid card before I even got out of jail, and as soon as I got a job offer, court counselors helped me get valid ID and could even help pay off child support or other debts. Family court officials would try to get me a driver’s license.
Mazza reported that his clients have a 90 percent compliance rate, but slip-ups happen and there is about 24 percent relapse.
Even so, Hudson saved huge amounts of money and served the entire community better by helping men and women reintegrate after prison, and their program became a model for the state. So much so that Governor Murphy doubled his state allocation this year and smiled when MP Raj Mukerji persuaded him to add another million for a total of $ 7 million over the next fiscal year to help turn chronic criminals into good citizens and good neighbors.
Joan Quigley, a former Jersey City MP, is President and CEO of North Hudson Community Action Corp.
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