President Obama’s shining a light on Newark and its programs aimed at helping former inmates come home. Programs that are also helping kids at risk stay out of jail by reducing the violence around them, boosting their readiness for school, training them for jobs and building their stake in the community. His first stop was Integrity House, the state’s largest rehabilitation facility where newly freed prisoners can find transitional homes, job training and substance abuse treatment. He then headed to the Rutgers-Newark School of Criminal Justice that teaches inmates while they’re incarcerated and finds them college placement once they’re out.
David Cruz joins NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams and Correspondent Michael Hill live from outside Rutgers Law to talk about the President and his remarks today. Cruz said that criminal justice reform was the theme of the day. The president spent some time here talking about the efforts taking place in the city of Newark:
“What I’ve seen is that there are people across the board, folks who work inside the criminal justice system, folks who were affected by the criminal justice system, who are saying, ‘there’s got to be a better way to do this,’ and are not just asking questions about how we make the system smarter and more effective, but also showing us how it’s done and are actually implementing it. This afternoon I spent with the mayor and Senator Booker getting a firsthand look about how Newark is helping to lead the way. As a partner in My Brother’s Keeper initiative, the mayor and the senator and congressman and others are working in a public-private partnership to focus on disrupting the pipeline for underfunded schools to overcrowded jails. Here in Newark, when it comes to rehabilitating prisoners, reintegrating former inmates into society you’ve got organizations that are doing extraordinary work and that’s why I wanted to focus here today. Because places like Integrity House, the work that’s being done in our federal renew program, through the district court and our federal attorney’s office, they are accomplishing extraordinary things. And when you meet folks who are taking that step to break addiction and overcome great odds, and you see what they’ve already accomplished, and what more they’re going to accomplish in the future, you cannot help but feel hopeful about the future. […] With a little bit of help they can get on the right path and that’s what we have to invest in. That’s what we have to believe. That’s what we have to promote. That’s why I’m so proud of what Newark’s doing and that’s what I hope everybody learns.”
Cruz says the significance of Obama’s visit to Newark is that he announced a number of new initiatives. “The one that drew most applause today was banning the box, that is asking employers to not ask potential employees whether they have a criminal record. The president essentially said, ‘listen, we’re asking the private sector to participate in this program,’ so he announced today that the federal government is going to do the same thing. They’re not going to ask potential employees whether they have a criminal record,” Cruz said.
He says that the other thing the president announced was a major grant program, $6 million for several municipalities, including Newark which is engaging in a program called Tech Serve with NJIT, Audible and Prudential. The programs are involved in helping prisoners get jobs in the high tech industry as coders and software developers.
Those two initiatives were the two main things that came out of today, according to Cruz, but it was an important day for the city of Newark what showed that Newark could host a presidential visit. “It’s a city that should get some more national attention for some of the good things that are happening here. It was also a good day for Rutgers Newark that on very short notice showed they can host a presidential visit, having to close down a building and a parking lot nearby. There were no major disruptions other than traffic.”
Today was also important for Newark mayor Ras Baraka who was mentioned several times by the president. “[He] really across the country is gaining a reputation as someone who is really on the vanguard of criminal justice reform, including starting a civilian complaint review board in this city, something that has never happened before and that’s a process that’s he’s involved in right now, as well as My Brother’s Keeper which is a federal program that is doing very well here in Newark.”
Lastly, Integrity House received a lot of praise today as an origination that has been involved in providing housing and training and education for people have come out of prison. “Thousands every year in Newark; mostly young, black and latino men who try to find a way back into society and Integrity House has been doing this for 50 years really in a way, before it was cool,” Cruz said.