A new report calls on the state do to do more to provide former prisoners with specialized vocational training and better health coverage to help them become productive members of society.

Former Gov. Jim McGreevey, who now heads up the New Jersey Reentry Corporation, said to do this, “one of the critical steps is vocational education, the need to train people specifically to job opportunities.”

He said the report, “REENTRY: From Prison to the Streets, Making it Work,” looks at “those industries where there are reentry-friendly jobs, and train people to those jobs.”

The report calls for a $6.9 million, three-year pilot program that would link vocational technical schools in Camden, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Middlesex and Union counties to businesses, to provide “tangible credentials and career opportunities.”

McGreevey said more must be done because we know 53 percent of ex-offenders will be arrested again, and 31 percent will be sent back to jail within three years.

He said if we can get people in a position “where they maintain their sobriety, they maintain structured, sober housing, where they have a job, we can convert people from being wardens of the state to being taxpayers.”

Another focus of the report is healthcare, and the importance of providing assistance to those ex-offenders who need help.

McGreevey said in recent years “we’ve made great progress on addiction treatment, housing, employment, but we can do even more in terms of vocational education and healthcare.”

“We’re urging the next governor to build upon the successes of the Christie administration,” he said.

“What we’re trying to do is indentify those business opportunities, those job opportunities, and provide the skills necessary for our clients to be competitive in the workplace.”

McGreevey noted it’s important to remember “it’s expensive to keep somebody in prison. There’s a cost, upwards of $55,000 a year, and so what we’re trying to do is let’s be smarter about that.”

“We need to be able to tell the business community we’re going to help work with you cooperatively to train these individuals so they can work productively at your employment site.”

McGreevey noted “this isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue; it’s an American issue, it’s a New Jersey issue.”

He stressed better healthcare for ex-offenders is imperative because “there’s a significant overlap between the addiction crisis and imprisonment.”

He added we need to give people skills so that when they knock on the door of an employer, “not only can they say, 'Yes I’ve made a mistake in my life,' but 'I’m sober now, but I have the skills necessary to do a good job for your company.'”

NJ Reentry Corporation board members include former governors Brendan Byrne, Tom Kean, Jim Florio, Jon Corzine, Chief Justice Deborah Poritz and Bishop Reginald T. Jackson.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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