Former Gov. Jim McGreevey served as the keynote speaker at this week's 3rd Annual Union County Youth Services Networking Conference, speaking about the importance of reentry into society by those leaving the criminal justice system and the success Jersey City has had reducing recidivism, or the return to criminal behavior.

"These are interesting times with regard to the question of reentry," he said. "After America's long love affair with incarceration, there is a light at the end of the tunnel."

McGreevey was referring to the success Jersey City has enjoyed enabling those leaving incarceration to reenter society and avoid a return to crime and the growing support for such programs throughout New Jersey and the nation. Today McGreevey serves as the executive director of the Jersey City Employment and Training Committee, where he oversees the agency's efforts to guide former prison inmates back into the workforce.

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McGreevey shared some startling statistics:

  • The United States spends $74 billion per year incarcerating 1 percent of its population.

  • The United States accounts for 5 percent of the world's population yet 25 percent of the world's incarcerated population.

  • 70 percent of the nation's incarcerated population are addicts or alcoholics yet only 11 percent receive treatment while incarcerated.

  • Within three years 60 percent of those leaving incarceration are re-indicted.

"We clearly can do this better," he said.

McGreevey said in Jersey City they focus on treatment, housing and training, identifying those jobs that are or will be in highest demand and training participants in those sectors. As a result, recidivism within the program has dropped to 23 percent, compared with the national average of 60 percent.

McGreevey also noted that those in the audience, which comprised more than 250 youth services professionals from the government and nonprofit sectors, are playing an essential role in the effort to reduce recidivism by working with young people within the child services system who are so much at risk. He said the children of parents who are incarcerated are six times more likely to become incarcerated themselves than the national average.

The conference also featured presentations by representatives from the N.J. Department of Children and Families, Jessica Trombetta, director of the Office of Adolescent Services and Antonio Lopez, administrator of the Division of Prevention and Community Partnerships. Attendees also were able to take part in workshops covering topics such as employment and housing, after-school recreation and mentoring, domestic violence and gangs, and behavioral health and transitioning to adulthood.

De Lacy Davis, executive director of the Family Support Organization of Union County, which supports families of children with special emotional and behavioral needs, moderated a workshop on providing youth with alternatives to stay busy during the hours of 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., when the majority of youth crimes take place.

"There is a need for these types of services," he said. "There are people working in agencies providing services who don’t know what other providers are offering. You get to hear people say who they are and what they do and you say, 'Ah, I need that service.' It's phenomenal and should be replicated throughout the state."

"The purpose of this conference is to network and connect the dots," said Tanya Johnson, senior assistant executive director of youth services at Community Access Unlimited (CAU), which hosts the conference each year. "To fill in gaps in service, inform attendees about current services and put faces to names. All so we can provide better services to youth within the child services system."

The annual conference is the culmination of year-long work by the Union County Youth Services Steering Committee, which comprises 17 public and nonprofit youth services agencies, child advocates, volunteers and faith-based organizations. The committee works during the year to create resources and opportunities for individual professionals and organizations within the Union County child services sector to collaborate, as well as plans the annual conference, including lining up vendors and speakers.

CAU is a statewide Elizabeth-based nonprofit providing support programs and services to adults with disabilities as well as youth served under the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to enable them to live independently in the community, in areas including housing, vocational and life-skills training, education, advocacy and recreation. The conference breakfast was underwritten by the Union County Department of Human Services.

About CAU

Community Access Unlimited (CAU), celebrating its 36th year of success in 2015, supports people with special needs in achieving real lives in the community. CAU provides support and gives a voice to adults and youth who traditionally have little support and no voice in society. CAU helps people with housing, life skills, employment, money management, socialization and civic activities. CAU also supports opportunities for advocacy through training in assertiveness, decision-making and civil rights. CAU serves more than 5,000 individuals each year. For more information about CAU and its services, contact us by phone at 908-354.-040, online at www.caunj.org or by mail at 80 West Grand Street, Elizabeth, NJ, 07202.