A pilot program has been launched in South Jersey to help struggling prison parolees become productive members of society.

The Village of Hope in Bridgeton, Cumberland County, consists of six almost identical 100-square foot mini homes that will house former prison inmates trying to make a fresh start.

According to Kevin McHugh, the executive director of the Reentry Coalition of New Jersey parolees that do not have families or homes to return to once they are released from prison usually wind up shelters, transitional housing or motels.

A stable environment

He said the Village of Hope will offer them a stable environment for several months while they get support services including job training “and our goal is to move them on into traditional housing after an average of 6 months, we’re not going to throw them out after 6 months."

Courtesy Reentry Coalition of New Jersey
Courtesy Reentry Coalition of New Jersey

Life in a mini-home

He explained each unit has a bed, a small refrigerator, a desk, a heating-cooling unit and a desk, and residents will share a communal kitchen a conference room and bathroom area.

He said a case manager will work with the residents of the Village on programs tailored to their needs and “we’ve arranged to have transportation, public transportation stop at the site so they can get to where they need to go.”

McHugh said this kind of support is important because many individuals who wind up in prison have low education levels with no real job skills, and they may have drug and alcohol issues and life skills deficits.

That crucial time

“That first several months are the real difficult time, getting them on track and keeping them on track is really what we need to do,” he said.

If the program is successful, he said it could be used all over the Garden State, not only for prison parolees but also for individuals who wind up being homeless.

“It’s actually something we’re going to look at, this could be the way to deal with this kind of problem in an early way and a way that makes sense.”

The Village of Hope is a partnership of the Reentry Coalition, the New Jersey State Parole Board, the Kintock Group, the City of Bridgeton and the Gateway Community Action Partnership.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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