CAMDEN, N.J. – Dozens of formerly incarcerated Camden County residents received services at the Reentry Resource Forum in Camden hosted by the Board of Freeholders recently. The goal of the services is to help foster connections and facilitate access to services and resources that are often difficult to navigate.
Widespread efforts throughout county offices have been focused on reducing the jail population in Camden since approximately 2009. At that time, the average daily population in the jail was 1,686. Today, that figure has been reduced by roughly 55 percent to 756. The average length of stay in the jail is just 24 days according to a press release from the County.
“Our goal is to lower and eliminate the barriers faced by our reentering population, and to ensure that when they leave our facilities they are prepared to be successful in their community,” Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli, Jr. said in a statement. “If we get these services into someone’s hands early, and we keep at it with appropriate follow-ups, then we can significantly reduce the rate of recidivism in our facilities, and greatly increase the quality of life of our former offenders looking to live a better life.”
The Reentry Resource Forum comes as part of the County’s participation in the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge, which awarded the County with the resources and expertise needed for this and similar events. Through the Challenge’s Innovation Fund, Camden County receives support and expert technical assistance in designing and implementing local reforms.
In October 2018, Camden County became one of just 13 jurisdictions to join the Safety and Justice Challenge, a national $148 million initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. Camden County receives short-term support of approximately $50,000, is eligible for future funding opportunities, and has access to the resources, peer learning opportunities, and expertise of the Safety and Justice Challenge Network.
Karen Taylor, Warden of the Camden County Jail, said there was a need for post-release reentry services from the standpoint of correctional facilities.
“If we do not prepare them, they will return to us,” Taylor said. “If we want to reduce recidivism, it’s incumbent on the correctional facility and the community as a whole to make sure they have the tools, the map, and the guide to successfully reenter their communities.”
Several successfully reintegrated community members joined officials to discuss the importance of the program and others like it.
Antonne Henshaw, a former inmate who spent 30 years in prison, talked about how to make the most of the time you are given outside of the criminal justice system.
“For me, it’s about producing people who can be an asset to the community,” Henshaw said. “The people who once harmed it can help it heal. You don’t have to be defined by your past if you’re willing to take control of your future.”
Among the resources available at the forum were assistance obtaining a driver’s license, intakes and screenings for drug or alcohol treatment, and employment resources to help attendees reenter the workforce now that they’ve returned to the community. In addition, Camden employer EMR conducted interviews on the spot to hire individuals who attended the event.
The Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, Volunteers of America, Genesis, and Oaks Integrated Care operate reentry programs within the Camden County Correctional Facility. Collectively, all of these reentry programs put individuals in a better position to be successful once released. These programs exponentially increase the odds that one can break the continuous cycle of arrest and incarceration according to the County.