Lest you think government is only a broken and useless apparatus, consider Newark, New Jersey’s newly established Office of Reentry, which is designed to grapple with the debilitating consequences of mass imprisonment. According to the Manhattan Institute, “nearly 700,000 prisoners are released annually. If historic trends hold, nearly two-thirds will be re-incarcerated within three years.” The frequently unstated cause of this alarming number is our drug policy, which has resulted in one marijuana arrest every 42 seconds in the U.S. and which adversely affects low income, crime-ridden cities such as Newark.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has proposed a more humane and pragmatic alternative to simply incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders by instead offering them effective treatment. Included in Christie’s strategy to ease the burden of mass incarceration on the state was support for “treatment and reentry programs.” Newark’s Office of Reentry seems to embody such a program.
The Wall Street Journal elaborated on the method and record of the city’s reentry efforts:
The Office of Reentry works with five job-placement programs, which develop relationships with employers, help ex-offenders get basic identification and teach them how to dress and conduct themselves in an interview.
The experience shows that, even in the teeth of a bad economy, those who may seem like the least employable job candidates have found work: as cooks and kitchen aides in restaurants, as forklift operators in warehouses adjacent to Newark’s port, on the night shift at convenience stores, packing deliveries at a paint distribution center.
So far the Newark program has seen 1,800 ex-offenders (all of whom sought help voluntarily), and placed 1,090 in private, unsubsidized jobs. While New Jersey’s Department of Corrections estimates that 50% of those released from prison will be rearrested for a new crime within nine months, the Newark office has seen only 29% rearrested—and believes that figure to be exaggerated by arrests which do not lead to charges.
This program, though burdened by an unnecessary and totally ineffective drug war, is still applicable even in the absence of high incarceration rates for drug offenses. It is a system that, to echo the sentiments of Gov. Christie, does not discard the lives of human beings in exchange for an almost authoritarian “tough on crime” posture. Reentry programs that follow Newark’s model offer hope for ex-offenders and provide empirical support for drug policy reform.
The so called War on Drugs has not succeeded in making significant reductions in drug use, drug arrests or violence. We are pouring huge amounts of our public resources into this current effort that are bleeding our public treasury and unnecessarily undermining human potential.
I see the BILLIONS AND BILLIONS of dollars being poured into the criminal justice system here in New Jersey and it represents big overgrown government at its worst. We should be investing dollars in programs and strategies that work not just to lower crime but work to empower lives.