Tag Archive: prison

Saving New Jersey’s children three zip codes at a time

Cross-posted with Marie Corfield blog. – Promoted by Rosi.

Yesterday the mayors of New Jersey’s three largest cities, Ras Baraka of Newark, Jose Torres of Paterson and Steven Fulop of Jersey City, announced a bold move to collaborate on reducing violent crime in all three cities.

The proposal evolved from the Passaic River Corridor Initiative along Route 21, which has involved as many as 80 municipalities sharing police intelligence, according to Tom O’Reilly, the head of the Police Institute at Rutgers University. State authorities have said the program has led to hundreds of arrests.

But sharing police officers among three large cities that are not adjacent to one another while also combining social services is “sort of a first,” O’Reilly said. “They are challenging the traditional ways of thinking,” he said of the mayors. “The idea that three mayors have cut across bureaucratic lines is the first step.”

QoTD: Choppers ‘n Food Stamps Edition

Quote of the Day is today’s Tweet from Courier-Post columnist @Jeremy_Rosen:

ICYMI @GovChristie took state chopper to his Camden appearance 2day… nothing wrong with that, but is he scared of city streets?

Thwock. Thwock. Thwock. Gov. Chris Christie availed himself of the mammoth state helicopter down to Camden this morning for the 35-mile ride from Trenton. In Camden, a city with far fewer police to keep a watchful eye on the Guv, he announced the future expansion of what sounds like a good idea (unless it masks another privatization initiative) to shift drug offenders into rehab programs instead of prison.

Christie did his press conference at Cathedral Kitchen, the largest emergency food provider in Camden; feeding since 1976 “the homeless, the jobless, those with disabilities or addiction problems, the working poor,” from “infants to the elderly”.

It’s great to see Christie draw attention to Cathedral Kitchen’s work. But seriously, did Christie’s cocksure press operation give any thought at all to how arrogant it looks for the governor to chopper in – at great public expense – to a place where hungry people come to be fed, on the day after we learned there are twice as many New Jerseyans are relying on food stamps than 4 years ago?

Thwock. Thwock. Thwock. Guess nobody thought of that.  

The budget and prisons

The New York Times has a fascinating article called Missouri Tells Judges Cost of Sentences:

When judges here sentence convicted criminals, a new and unusual variable is available for them to consider: what a given punishment will cost the State of Missouri….

Legal experts say no other state systematically provides such information to judges, a practice put into effect here last month by the state’s sentencing advisory commission, an appointed board that offers guidance on criminal sentencing.

Defense lawyers and (some) fiscal conservatives like it, while as you can imagine prosecutors are unhappy: “Justice isn’t subject to a mathematical formula,” said one.  

Let’s look at Governor Christie’s budget documents. The state department of corrections spends over $800 million a year on state prisons. The Budget in Brief(PDF) puts this number in perspective. If you consider the actual state government  — the “Direct State Services” on page 69 — the Department of Correction is 28% of the total, almost double the next largest department!  Well, if you followed the campaign last year you remember that you could convince every state worker to work for free yet still not close the state’s budget gap: My previous calculation doesn’t include school aid, municipal aid, higher education, hospitals, etc. Compared to the total state budget, we’re talking “only” 3% of the total budget. Nevertheless, it seems to me that providing this kind of factual information to judges would be very worthwhile. No doubt there are many robbers who should be imprisoned at a total cost of $50K each rather than $9K probation, to use an example from the article, but sometimes the savings is worthwhile.

If we are to enter a new age of conservative austerity, let judges be aware of what they’re spending.  

Coniglio seeks “a substantial” variance to avoid jail

Awaiting sentencing after being convicted of extortion and mail fraud at Hackensack University Medical Center and with prosecutors requesting a term with guidelines that range from 63 to 78 months, former State Senator Joe Coniglio’s attorney is asking for no jail time:

Coniglio’s attorney, Gerald Krovatin, submitted a 22-page sentencing memorandum along with 84 letters from family, friends and supporters urging the judge to be lenient.

He asked Cavanaugh to consider granting “a substantial” variance from the range sought by the government, and offered a menu of sentencing options.

And here’s what was on the menu:

He asked Cavanaugh to consider granting “a substantial” variance from the range sought by the government, and offered a menu of sentencing options.

“If the court cannot justify imposing a non-custodial sentence with appropriate conditions of home confinement and community service, defendant Coniglio asks the court to impose either a split sentence involving some minimal incarceration [no more than six months] combined with home confinement, or a sentence of imprisonment no longer than a year and a day,” Krovatin wrote.

Coniglio’s lawyer pointed to the fact that no one was actually prosecuted from the hospital in trying to make their case:

“The hospital that paid the alleged bribes and benefited from the alleged extortion scheme to the tune of tens of millions of dollars was not charged,” said Krovatin. Nor were its president, who allegedly directed that Coniglio be hired, nor the fund-raising executive who “relentlessly pursued” Coniglio for state grants, nor any of the “wealthy and politically connected directors,” who approved his hiring, the attorney said.

“In hindsight of course, Joseph Coniglio should never have taken the consulting job with HUMC. But that was not obvious to him at the time.

“He thought he was successfully navigating his way, with the advice of counsel and his legislative peers, around any ‘third rail’ conflicts of interest in his job at HUMC. As all the letter writers to the court have expressed in one way or another, Joseph Coniglio never would have taken the job at HUMC if he thought for one moment that he was doing anything wrong,” Krovatin said.

Coniglio is supposed to be sentenced this coming Tuesday.  I would think it’s unlikely he gets no time behind bars.  Wayne Bryant began serving his sentence earlier this week in West Virginia. He received a four year sentence for his convictions.

Giving ex-inmates “Another Chance”

The numbers are staggering:

Every year in New Jersey, 14,000 adult inmates and 1,600 juvenile offenders are released from correctional facilities. As many as 65 percent of the adults will be re-arrested within five years, and 37 percent of juveniles will return to correctional facilities within two years.

Given those statistics as a backdrop, it’s great to see NJ looking at ways to develop a combination of services that will work best to keep ex-inmates from returning to prison upon their release:

The $2 million program, called “Another Chance,” is part of the state’s stepped-up efforts to lessen the percentage of ex-cons who re-enter state prison. It’s also a key component of Gov. Jon Corzine’s strategy to combat gang and gun violence.

The pilot program offers a range of social, job and medical services to 1,300 people with criminal convictions, then tracking the results.

Let’s look at what the program includes:

Inmates and parolees in the program can receive an array of services including job training to behavioral therapy, anger management and parenting classes.

It begins with a diagnostic assessment, so services are customized to each person’s needs. Those in the pilot are divided into three components: newly admitted prisoners, who receive a full range of services; those who will be released within nine months, who get a discharge plan and are lined up to receive services once they are released; and those already on parole, who receive only post-release services.

The idea is to collect data on all groups “so we can connect with what really works to reduce recidivism,” said Jeffries.

And for those who will focus on the cost, the attorney who will oversee the program had this to say:

“Do we spend the money on the back end and incarcerate people, or do we intervene and try to move people into a place where they have the support system and connections they need? So, really, we are looking at the reallocation of dollars. We need to be smart about how we are spending our existing dollars.”

At least we are looking at ways to be pro-active rather than continuing to throw money at a problem we know exists.  I’ll be interested to follow the progress of this pilot program.

Lives (and Votes) Lost

With election day almost here, City Belt looks at the voting rights of New Jerseyans who are in or have been released from prison. As Larry Peterson’s case shows, even if you’re innocent, voting just might not be the first thing on your mind.

“I never even tried to register to vote. I’ve just been trying to put my life in order. It’s a struggle every day.”

Read about Peterson’s ordeal, and learn where New Jersey stands in relation to the rest of the country and the world in terms of prisoners’ voting rights here.