A Hudson County program that helps inmates ease back into the community and address substance-abuse issues will receive $4 million more in state funds this year — more than double what it received last year.
The $7 million for the Hudson County Pilot Reentry Program could also give the county the wherewithal to end a controversial agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Under that deal, long-criticized by immigration advocates, the county rents jail space to the agency, which it uses to hold detainees.
William O’Dea, a commissioner on the Hudson County Board of Commissioners, said the extra funds would allow the county to receive more inmates from elsewhere in the state who would be able to participate in the reentry program.
“We should just have the governor assure us that they will continue to fund that reentry for years to come,’’ he said.
Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson), who sponsored an amendment to add another $1 million for the program after Gov. Phil Murphy’s office requested $6 million in the original budget, said the reentry program helps inmates in many ways, including job training and getting access to health care and housing after release.
“The Hudson County Pilot has been very successful for seven years, but they have also faced cuts, and it’s been difficult for them to keep pace with the number of inmates being released from (Department of Corrections) custody,’’ Mukherji said. “The appropriation was to ensure they don’t have to scale back services in a state where reentry efforts have served as a model for the nation.”
Funding a ‘second chance’
“Gov. Murphy has increased resources to provide returning citizens a second chance through reentry programs throughout the state,” said Alexandra Altman, a spokeswoman in the governor’s office. “In the FY22 budget the Legislature and Gov. Murphy increased state support for this important program in Hudson County. With additional state support for programs like these, counties may be less dependent on funding from other sources.”
Frank Mazza, the director of Hudson County’s Department of Housing and Community Reintegration, did not respond to email and phone requests. Neither did James Kennelly, a county spokesman.
The Hudson County Reentry Pilot Program is a joint effort between the county jail, the Hudson County Department of Family Services and local nonprofits that help prisoners integrate back into society once released.
Prior to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Hudson County charged ICE millions a month to hold hundreds of its detainees at the jail in Kearny. In 2018, for example, Hudson County billed ICE $27.3 million as the number of those detained swelled because of stricter enforcement policies under the Trump administration.
Hudson County officials were often the target of immigrant advocates, who attended their meetings in Jersey City, sometimes carrying signs and expressing their frustration with the ICE contract. They accused the county led by Democrats of being complicit with the federal agency and profiting from Trump’s immigration policies.
Bowing to critics, in 2018 Hudson County announced a plan to exit from the agreement by 2020. But last November, the Hudson County Board of Commissioners voted to extend the contract for 10 years following hours of adverse comments from advocates. Earlier this year, after Essex County officials announced they would no longer house ICE detainees at their jail in Newark, Hudson County Board of Commissioners Chair Anthony Vaineiri, who had voted to extend the contract, signaled his desire to end the agreement.
But by then the county was no longer receiving the revenue it once had. Last year, the ICE population held in detention fell across the country due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, which led judges to order the federal agency to release scores of detainees who were older or medically compromised.
Downward trend for detainees
The Hudson County jail, which charges $120 per detainee, per day, currently has capped the number of ICE detainees it houses to no more than 50 on any given day, a stark contrast from 2018 when they housed more than 600 a day.
O’Dea said there has been conversations with state officials about ways the reentry program could expand, and he said one possibility is for it to serve more inmates from other counties as well as female prisoners from the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility with substance-abuse issues who are close to completing their sentences. Gov. Phil Murphy has pledged to close the facility in Hunterdon County following sexual assaults on inmates and physical assaults on women by corrections officers.
“With that money, the county should be able to bring in, let’s say, 60 inmates who need substance-abuse assistance, which is more than what they have right now from ICE,’’ O’Dea explained.
He said although it’s been talked about as a possibility, a study would have to be conducted before any of the female inmates from Edna Mahan would be taken in by Hudson.