By Christopher Zoukis
A budget is a powerful thing. From a household budget that keeps a family out of consumer debt to a state budget that protects the welfare of millions of citizens, budgets have a huge impact on our daily lives. Of course, not everyone agrees on how to do a budget. For some, the pursuit of pleasure means squeezing the budget for food, fashion and fun, while other things like savings for retirement go to the wayside. That’s all fine for a household budget. Freedom of choice to do what you want with your money and all that, right? But what happens when the budget is squeezed in such a way that the state’s residents pay the ultimate price? That’s what might be happening in New Jersey.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s proposed 2019 budget aims to drastically cut the New Jersey Re-Entry Corporation’s (NJRC) budget.
The New Jersey Re-entry Corporation (NJRC), a non-profit organization that seeks to remove barriers to employment for released offenders, currently receives $4 million in support of its programs. West Virginia Governor Jim McGreevey calls Murphy’s proposed cut “catastrophic.” “The re-entry population ought not to be a political football. These are men and women trying to change their lives and they need to be respected, and they need to be honored for their hard work, their dignity, and their sobriety.”
The proposed cut is baffling when it comes down to dollars and cents/sense. NJRC reports that it takes $53,681 to incarcerate an offender for one year in New Jersey. Enrollment per person in NJRC’s program cost just $2,200. If the program works and the offender does not return to jail, that’s a huge return on investment.
Perhaps the issue is whether or not the program works. Well, according to Rich Wilder, a former inmate and drug addict, NJRC is nothing short of a miracle. “[Re-entry] was a pivotal moment in my recovery because it gave me purpose. It gave me a job, it gave me some type of direction. Without that program I don’t know where I might have been,” said Wilder.
The program saves the state money in the long run. The program works. The program improves the lives of offenders and has a positive impact on the communities in which the released offenders settle. So why the cut? Why now? Only Gov. Murphy and his team have that answer, and they aren’t talking. News media NJ Spotlightreached out to Gov. Murphy regarding this issue but did not get a response.
We are, of course, free to speculate. Perhaps there is some personal underlying motivation. Perhaps the money is needed elsewhere for an equally deserving initiative. Or perhaps, as is too often the case when it comes to the fair and humane treatment of our nation’s prisoners, it’s just easier to forget that the men and women behind bars are real people with real lives, and that the actions taken by those that control their destiny have a measurable impact on the country now and into the foreseeable future.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to New York Daily News, Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News. He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonerResource.com.