In a wide-ranging report that comprehensively examined how New Jersey treats former prisoners, a state commission laid out 100 recommendations to help formerly incarcerated people transition to life after prison, and detailed ways the state could help prevent them from going back to prison.
The group, led by former Gov. Jim McGreevey, examined best practices in other states around health care, housing, legal and employment problems that negatively affect former prisoners. More than a dozen speakers — addicts, former prisoners, lawyers, doctors and clergy members — presented the findings at the Statehouse this week.
New Jersey state correctional institutions currently hold more than 19,000 prisoners — around 3,200 are in federal prisons and 12,000 in the county jail system. Last year, the state released 9,000 people.
“The old model of reentry was to find them a job, God bless and good luck,” said McGreevey, who heads the New Jersey Reentry Corporation, a nonprofit that helps people who leave prison transition to the outside world. “Without addiction treatment, that individual would not be able to sustain him or herself.” New Jersey should also follow the example of other states that are getting it right, commission members said.
“For individuals in reentry, securing treatment for addiction is — by far — their most pressing need upon release,” the report said, noting that 75 percent of people in prison have suffered from substance abuse issues.
The report outlined the gaps in medical coverage that former prisoners face, and how many people don’t have access to drugs that can help deal with drug addiction, like buprenorphine, methadone or naltrexone.
New Jersey screens only certain people in prison for the prevalent diseases hepatitis B and C, missing up to a possible one-third of people with the illnesses.
Once New Jersey identifies someone with hepatitis, the state has to treat the individual, but the treatment is very expensive, said Aakash Shah, an emergency room doctor on the commission. Negotiating directly with drug manufacturers for a flat fee the state could afford is recommended.
People leaving prison are often out without important documents needed to get health care or find a job, like a Medicaid card or a driver’s license. The report suggests ways to make sure a person has these resources when he or she leaves.