JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) -- Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson gave the keynote address Thursday at a conference on prisoner re-entry, saying that the prison system isn't doing a good job of rehabilitating inmates and that there needs to be more programs to prevent people from going there in the first place.

Mike Tyson
Didier Baverel, Getty Images

Tyson, who has been jailed twice, spoke at the conference at St. Peter's University in Jersey City.

"There's no such thing as rehabilitation. Prison is all debilitating. When you go in there, you never come out the same person again," Tyson said. "This is something a nation of savages would look at as something of a disgrace."

Tyson spoke about his troubled past but said, "I'm on the course of being the person I want to be. I have dignity. I have self-respect."

Tyson was jailed in 1992 for rape and went to jail in 1999 on assault charges.

Speaking after Tyson, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman noted his office's launch of Project Renew in Newark in which parolees can obtain housing, jobs, education, counseling and legal assistance. They are also held accountable for any new mistakes they may make.

"It's not enough to provide the right services. We have to provide them in the right place, at the right time," Fishman said.

He said they are now working on scaling up the program and expanding it to Camden and eventually to Trenton. Fishman, who has sent his fair share of people away to prison, realizes former offenders are at a unique crossroad.

"They are poised either to become law-abiding citizens, contributors to our communities, or to become frequent fliers in the criminal justice system. They need to know that the path of redemption is theirs to choose and they will be supported in that journey and their decision to leave what is familiar and trade it for the prospect of something that's a little scary but promises a better future," Fishman said.

The conference was the brainchild of former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, who is the executive director of the Jersey City Employment and Training Program. McGreevey has been counseling inmates since getting his divinity degree.

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