PATERSON, NJ - Paterson City Council members that said they were surprised to hear about a grant received by the Paterson Public Library to expand services to formerly incarcerated residents got a full review of the program from Library Director Corey Fleming Tuesday.
Fresh Start @ Your Library, a two-year program offered in partnership with the State Parole Board, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and five other participating libraries throughout the state, is set to launch at the Paterson Public Library later this year.
Sponsored by the New Jersey State Library, Fresh Start will provide social workers, GED courses and testing, job training, and connection to employment opportunities for inmates returning to Passaic County.
Responding to concerns raised by Councilwoman-at-Large Dr. Lilisa Mimms, Fleming responded that the issue with safety is one that exists outside the building, not inside. Saying that it was an “ongoing struggle” to get people to the library safely, Fleming offered an assurance that “anybody in the building is safe,” pointing to separate children’s and adult areas, and on-duty security guards as part of those efforts.
Knocking back assertions that program participants may pose an additional risk, Fleming said that the library is “already serving homeless and formerly incarcerated residents.”
“These are already our customers,” Fleming said, adding that the grant ,worth $628,774 across all six libraries, is providing services that already exist.
While Mimms was adamant that she is supportive of reentry programs, she also held firm on not wanting it housed at the Broadway location, a point community activist Gee Grier backed up by saying that with the “drugs, crime, and prostitution” that still run rampant in the area, decision makers are putting those that want to make a change in their lives “back in the belly of the beast.”
Library Board President Tracy Pearson offered his own perspective saying that it wasn’t appropriate to attempt to hide program participants in a less visible location. “If we keep them off to the side,” he said, “that’s the life they are going to lead.”
“We have to engage our public, and some of those are ex-offenders.”