New Jersey's 8th Legislative District

Senator Jean Stanfield

Senator Jean Stanfield

Editorial: Being Tough on Crime Means Helping Those Released from Prison to Move Forward

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The following editorial by Senator Jean Stanfield (R-8) was published by NJ.com on July 28, 2022:

There’s an increasingly pervasive and inflexible thought process in our politics on crime these days, one that holds you’re only allowed to be tough on crime and sacrifice compassion or soft on crime and sacrifice safety. By failing to meet in the middle between those far-off stances, we not only fail to protect victims, but also the offenders who have a chance to be reformed.

In this NJ.com editorial, Sen. Jean Stanfield says reentry services and drug diversion programs can help reform offenders, prevent recidivism, and improve public safety. (Pixabay)

I’ve devoted my career to not only protecting people as the Sheriff of Burlington County but also working on getting people help once they do get caught up in the system. I currently serve roles on New Jersey’s Reentry program and the Supreme Court’s JOBS Committee, which help incarcerated people integrate back into society and help recovering drug offenders find careers, respectively.

There’s no way to sugarcoat what we’re seeing across our nation. Violent crimes are up in some cities and nonviolent crimes, from stolen cars and drug-related offenses, are on the rise almost everywhere. A lot of these trends could probably be attributed to an increasing number of crimes of despair, brought on by the isolation of heavy-handed COVID policies and the financial hurt of rising inflation, but make no mistake, crime policy also plays a major role.

Across the country, in the last 10-or-so years, we’ve seen a wave of activist prosecutors and politicians push policies that value soft punishments, or no punishments at all, instead embracing a “hands-off” approach on nonviolent crimes. At their most extreme, these policies discount the safety of victims, while doing little to actually make our communities safer. Without the deterrence of punishment, we see the rise of multiple offenders.

Although progressives focus a lot of their energy on the front end of crime, there are lessons to be learned from their philosophies on how to treat offenders post-conviction. Once we have offenders in the system, their focus should be directed toward turning their own lives around. As policymakers, we can set that tone by placing choices and programs in front of them and incentivizing them to seek the help and direction they need to complete that mission.

Two of the areas I’ve focused on are reentry services and drug diversion programs.

The U.S. releases over 7 million people from jail and more than 600,000 people from prison each year. Within three years of their release, 2 out of 3 people are rearrested and more than 50% are incarcerated again.

The government needs to do everything it can to make sure incarcerated individuals have a path forward and basic services after they serve their time, if not just to turn their lives around, but to also create a safer environment for people who obey the law. The cycle of recidivism that exists when we don’t provide post-incarcerated individuals with services, like housing and medical care – is detrimental to all of society.

The best way to break the cycle is to provide someone with meaning, which we’ve seen is often linked to having a well-balanced work routine. As a state representative on the New Jersey Supreme Court’s JOBS Committee, I work with the court system and its nonviolent drug offender diversion programs. We help identify partnerships with companies that are willing to give these people, who are on the path to recovery, a chance at a future career.

These people have carried out crimes while in the throes of addiction, and it’s fair to speculate that if they can kick the addiction, they can get on the right path. Once they’ve joined a recidivism program, they’ve taken the first step to prove they want to be on that path.

One of the pieces of legislation I’ve sponsored in the Senate would provide businesses with tax credits to hire drug offenders in diversion programs. These future workers are already participating in highly-regulated rehab programs and are doing everything they can to turn their lives around and not get sent back to prison. They are very motivated and regimented workers who employers love once they get over the stigma and give them a second chance.

While solutions to recidivism are being developed and expanded upon, none of them work if we look the other way on crime.

The last thing we should do is ignore a pattern of prior offenses by not prosecuting the people committing them. If that’s the route we take, then how do we get these people in diversion programs to begin with?

It’s crazy to say out loud that people shouldn’t face consequences for robbing a store or stealing someone’s property, but we’ve reached that point in many American cities. Everyone is a loser in this scenario — the criminal who has no deterrent to turn his or her life around, the victim who gets no justice for the wrong committed against them and society as a whole, which has to endure a crumbling sense of safety.

When we take ideas from both sides of the aisle, we can do what’s right for the people of this nation.

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