Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of hosting a visit from the Canadian Parole Board Chairperson Jennifer Oades. We had the opportunity to discuss best practices, compare our different parole processes, and share some important common ground about our collective goal— striking a decisive balance between protecting our society through public safety supervision, while fostering the successful rehabilitation of offenders through the implementation of rehabilitative programs that work.
Chairperson Oades asked me what New Jersey’s recidivism rate is. I indicated that it is currently 31% (the U.S. average is 67.8%). She looked at me with a bit of surprise, congratulated me, and asked me how we were able to attain such a low number. I said that there are many moving parts which we attribute it to.
I explained to the chairperson that our low recidivism rate is due to the well-trained, dedicated, and professional parole officers who provide effective supervision; the competent and judicious release decisions by parole board members; and the operational use of community programs and contracted partnerships, as well as our collaborative efforts with federal, state, and local law enforcement, government entities, agencies, non-profits, and organizations.
I have been with the New Jersey State Parole Board for 10 years now— first as an associate board member, then as vice chairman, followed by acting chairman. Last week, my nomination from Governor Murphy to be chairman was approved by the New Jersey State Senate. In the decade that I have served this agency it has become apparent to me that there is no one single strategy, approach, or solution that fully promotes public safety, nor method that fosters a positive rehabilitative, pro-social model for an offender. At the State Parole Board, we believe it is the synthesis of the agency’s individual components, programs, services, and partnerships that define its positive outcomes.
The State Parole Board’s Community Programs Division is dedicated to developing, coordinating, and managing the provision of quality treatment and services to individuals under parole supervision. This is done through community-based programs, community partnerships, grant initiatives, and special projects designed to support the reentry and effective supervision of offenders, which ultimately improves the quality of life for people in our communities.
The Community Programs Division administers contracts for the operation of community resource centers, reentry substance abuse programs, the Stages to Enhance Parolee Success program, residential programs, the Mutual Agreement Program (in partnership with the Department of Human Services Division of Addiction Services), as well as other specialized programs aimed at helping offenders assimilate back into society.
The State Parole Board continues to be recognized for its excellence. This past January, The National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices, in partnership with the National Parole Resource Center, officially selected New Jersey, along with Pennsylvania and Virginia to participate in a project where the three states will receive technical assistance to address paroling strategies in 2019. This learning collaborative will involve several state departments involved in supporting formerly incarcerated individuals, the Office of the Governor, and key criminal justice stakeholders. The goal is to develop evidence-based recommendations for supporting and firming up parole decision-making, policies, and practices to ensure people returning to their communities have the services and support needed for successful reentry.
While I am proud of all that we have done at the New Jersey State Parole Board, and recognize that our recidivism rate is one of the lowest in the country, I am cognizant that we have more good work to do. None of us can transform the parole system alone. But criminal justice agencies, community organizations, law enforcement partners, faith-based groups, and of course those who are seeking that second chance can work together to change the entire approach to reentry in an effort to promote pro-social behavior that improves the quality of lives in our communities.