Trenton, N.J. – Mayor W. Reed Gusciora announced today the launch of a new Office of Returning Citizens (ORC), which will help formerly incarcerated Trenton residents secure employment opportunities, professional development training, and housing.
The Gusciora Administration’s re-entry efforts started with a change in the City of Trenton’s employment policy to access applicants’ backgrounds on a case-by-case basis rather than relying on a seven-year lookback that would automatically disqualify them for having a criminal record. Mayor Gusciora later convened a re-entry committee in late 2019 to expand those efforts by bringing in additional expertise in all facets of the criminal justice system and specialists who deal the realities of reintegration.
The committee is made up of over a dozen leaders from local churches, advocacy groups, and non-profit agencies, as well as critical assistance from the N.J. Department of Labor and the N.J. State Parole Board.
“With current state legislation set to release up to 3,000 inmates early due to COVID-19 and the possibility that millions of dollars will be cut from parole programs in the state budget, I’m thankful that our Office of Returning Citizens has been in the works for a long time,” said Mayor Gusciora. “Now is the perfect opportunity to show that new hiring processes and a long-term partnership between the city, county, state and business community can help give those returning from incarceration a real shot at redemption.”
No incident in any individual’s past will result in an automatic disqualification from the re-entry program. A review committee consisting of the Law Director, Personnel Director, and administrator of the Office of Citizen Concerns will consider the complete history of the applicant, including the circumstances of the incidents in question, past or ongoing rehabilitation efforts, and any aggravating or mitigating factors involved.
To ensure each applicant engages in meaningful professional development opportunities, the City established partnerships the Mercer County One-Stop Career Center in Trenton and the Fresh Start program hosted by the Trenton Free Public Library. The City also established employment partnerships with The Home Rubber Company, Jingoli Construction Company, and Solterra. Other partners include Avanzar, which focuses on the particular needs of women, families and the LGBTQ community, and the N.J. Institute for Social Justice, which works in the arena of voter registration and civic engagement.
“Public safety practices and positive reentry programs can occur when real change is effected in the lives of those being supervised rather than through the revocation of their parole,” said N.J. State Parole Board Chairman Samuel J. Plumeri, Jr. “I believe that everyone deserves a chance at redemption. Congratulations to my hometown City of Trenton, for providing this second chance to those looking to assimilate back into society and potentially make positive differences within their own community.”
So far, six formerly incarcerated individuals have already found employment through the program, with more than 35 additional applicants currently being considered by the ORC. Anyone considering participation in the program can find additional information online.
“Once again this administration recognizes, that to reduce crime here in the City of Trenton, we need to create safe spaces for those returning home to our communities,” said Tracey Syphax, author of From The Block to the Boardroom. “When we do re-entry right, we not only reduce crime, we make our communities safer and reunite families. Most returning citizens want to do right and don’t want to return to a life of crime. The lack of economic opportunities and few employment options make re-entrants feel helpless. Collaborations like this, with wrap-around services, provide support and an infrastructure that creates alternative pathways to economic opportunity. ORC is a constructive way to engage returning citizens."
As part of its launch, the ORC is co-sponsoring a Fall Job Fair on Oct. 14, 2020 outside City Hall with the Trenton Free Public Library, Mercer County, and Avanzar. Additional information will be posted on the re-entry website as it become available.