Reinstating educational programming in New Jersey’s prisons is one recommendation that has come out of “Counting The Costs,” a series of public hearings seeking public input on how to improve the state’s criminal justice system and the process of reintegrating ex-offenders into society upon their release, the Newark Star-Ledger reports. Sponsored by Assembly Majority leader Bonnie Watson Coleman, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, and the Second Chance Campaign of New Jersey, the third of nine hearings was held last week.
Coleman hopes the hearings will lead to major changes in New Jersey’s criminal justice system either by legislation — ending the practice of forcing those convicted of certain criminal offenses to notify potential employers — or by administrative adjustments to the way the system operates — eliminating onerous phone surcharges that inmates face when making calls. Experts say the system is both expensive and broken. The cost of housing the state’s inmate population has increased to more than $1 billion, and two-thirds of the 70,000 adults and juveniles released from prison over the next five years are excepted to be rearrested within three years. While it costs $40,000 to house an inmate for a year, half as much can be spent to provide comprehensive drug treatment or education.