Program Area: Offender Reentry

Reducing Recidivism for Ex-offenders Returning to Essex County

Executive Summary

Since 2002, The Nicholson Foundation has joined with government agencies and community organizations to develop strategies and interventions to address some of the most critical issues affecting Newark’s residents.  The area’s high crime rate, with its adverse impact on public safety and community stability, continues to be a critical issue affecting the quality of life in the City and in surrounding urban Essex County.  In 2002, 46,000 Essex County residentsó6% of the County’s populationówere arrested. In Newark, one out of six adult males had a felony conviction.  Between 1980 and 2002, the number of New Jersey residents entering prison annually—including federal, State, and county facilities—had increased almost four-fold from 4,000 to 15,000, and approximately one third came from Essex County.  The increase in the prison population led to a corresponding increase in offenders returning to Essex County communities, where few social and economic supports were available.  Since national data indicated that two-thirds of released offenders are rearrested within three years of their release—many within the first six months—collaborative efforts to address the destructive cycle of recidivism became a Foundation priority.

Although newly released offenders confront many challenges when they return home, including substance abuse and chronic unemployment, research has shown that if they receive comprehensive and integrated services early in their reentry, they have a much better chance of successfully transitioning from prison to the community.  In developing reentry programming, The Nicholson Foundation and its government and community partners identified evidenced-based best practices including pre-release reentry planning, education and job-training during incarceration, job placement post-release, expedited access to post-release benefits and services, and the collaboration and support of parole agencies to implement reentry plans.  In addition, since newly released prisoners have multiple service needs and difficulty navigating among service providers, case management is essential to facilitate access and coordination of services, both within specific service programs and across multiple providers.

One of the Nicholson-supported reentry initiatives incorporating the evidence-based practices described above is Opportunity Reconnect, a one-stop reentry center for returning Essex County offenders that is designed to promote effective social and community reintegration.  A number of government agencies and community organizations, located on-site, provide access to critical services including welfare, Medicaid, housing, health, and family reunification as well as education, workforce preparation and job placement.  This co-location makes it easier for newly released ex-offenders to access services and for agencies to coordinate those services.

Other criminal justice initiatives supported by The Nicholson Foundation include in-prison education and skills development, discharge planning, and targeted post-release activities.  Nicholson is funding evaluations of several of these initiatives including Opportunity Reconnect.

Since the Foundation and its partner agencies began efforts in reentry programming, recidivism has been increasingly recognized by policymakers at all levels of government as a serious social and fiscal problem.  In collaboration with the Foundation and its partners, the State of New Jersey is now replicating the successful Opportunity Reconnect service model in several other counties.  Additionally, in recognition of the innovative reentry programs being implemented in Newark, the U.S. Department of Labor has funded a Prisoner Reentry Demonstration Initiative in partnership with the City, the State of New Jersey, and with community organizations and private foundations including Nicholson.

For the full report, click the following link: Full Report

For The Nicholson Foundation’s resource guide for funding reentry employment programs, click the following link: DOLLARS AND SENSE—A RESOURCE GUIDE: Funding Reentry Employment Programs for Returning Offenders

© 2009, The Nicholson Foundation