New Jersey State Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman, a Democrat from Mercer County, is introducing a comprehensive package of new laws aimed at giving convicts a second-chance. The legislation will feature administrative and statutory reforms dealing with incarcerated inmates.
The bill would mandate that inmates in New Jersey state prisons participate in educational and vocational programs in order to improve the likelihood that they stay out of trouble after release. The bill will also introduce a commission tasked with finding ways to foster stronger ties between inmates and their spouses and children. Released inmates would be barred from working in establishments that serve alcohol.
The legislative package would also establish faith-based programs inside prisons and create special courts to deal with defendants with mental health issues. More controversial, the new law would make it illegal for employers to discriminate against job applicants who have criminal records. The bill would also broaden the scope of expungement availability.
Studies have shown that roughly 14,000 adult inmates and 1,600 juvenile offenders are released from state prisons, jails and youth facilities in New Jersey annually. Roughly 65 percent of the adults will be arrested again within five years, and 37 percent of juveniles will also be sent back to correctional facilities within two years of release.
It costs taxpayers roughly $35,000 a year to house and feed an incarcerated individual.