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Paterson introduces program to help ex-offenders reintegrate back into society

Studies show that two-thirds of those released from prison will be incarcerated again within three years if they do not receive intervention.

Matt Trapani and Eliecer Marte

Jul 11, 2023, 2:30 AM

Updated 345 days ago

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The city of Paterson is introducing a first-of-its-kind program that helps ex-offenders face the challenges they may have once they reenter society. News 12 New Jersey was given exclusive access to see how it works.
Studies show that two-thirds of those released from prison will be incarcerated again within three years if they do not receive intervention. Paterson officials created this program as a way to reduce that number.
The program coordinator says that many times, ex-prisoners feel that they are left in the dark with nowhere to stay. This is one of the main reasons they end up back in prison.
Alonzo Kelly is one of the ex-offenders participating in the program. News 12 saw him set up a follow-up meeting after attending a reintegration assistance program event.
“Now I have custody of my children, so at this point, I am trying to better their lives, so they don’t have to go through the things I went through,” Kelly says.
Kelly is the father of eight children. His 14-year-old daughter accompanied him at the event. His youngest child is 9.
Kelly spent three years in prison. He says his priority is to find a stable and affordable home where he can raise his children.
“They have no one they can turn to. They basically burned every bridge probably they ever had, so basically, I’m the last hope, so to speak,” says reentry coordinator Valaida Hall. Hall became Paterson’s first prison reentry coordinator after the Department of Justice awarded Paterson with $100,000 last year.
“Paterson became the first city in the state of New Jersey to have someone full-time in their office providing reintegration services,” says Mayor Andre Sayegh.
The program provides services to ex-offenders to help them get back into society.
“Sometimes when I meet them pre-release, they tell me they are coming home to nothing. No home, no family. Nothing,” says Hall.
From housing to employment, social services and education, the goal is to help these individuals obtain the tools that they need to rebuild their lives.
For ex-offenders like Kelly, reentering society comes with many challenges.
“After you do your time, you’re supposed to come back and get it right. But sometimes there is still injustice going on because the people push them in the back of the line for everything,” he says. “That’s a lot of time what puts people back in the streets doing things that they do. Because they have no other choice.”
Hall says that in the last six months, about 60 reentry clients have received some type of assistance. They are mostly men.
“They vary. They go anywhere from the worst possible thing you can think of, to something as a small possession charge,” she says. I treat all of them with the same respect and same courtesy.”
“The program is really good. And I know some friends of mine that are doing well. They’ve gotten driver’s licenses, driving cars. I know guys [who haven’t driven] in years. They are driving now because of this program. Got apartments. Got good jobs,” says Kelly.
Hall says her goal is to expand this program and have enough funds so they can provide housing and employment directly, in addition to working with different organizations as they do at the moment.


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