A very nice story from Governing Magazine about an ex-governor and ex-offenders helping each other get second chances.
Many of the inmates in the county jail outside Jersey City, N.J., still call Jim McGreevey governor, even though he left office more than a decade ago. But not these women in forest green scrubs. They know him. They address him as Jim. He asks how they’re feeling and they answer in turn: “Grateful.” “Blessed.”
“I feel like God got my back today,” one says. Others nod in approval.
Jim asks about their sins and most recall the crime that brought them there. One says she still sins in her sleep. More nods.
“We all make mistakes,” McGreevey says, “but we all get up.”
McGreevey speaks from experience. He is getting his own second chance. Elected governor of New Jersey in 2001, he resigned three years later after coming out as a “gay American” and admitting to an affair with his homeland security adviser. Then came an ugly public divorce, a memoir and a tell-all Oprah interview. Now he’s director of Jersey City’s Employment and Training Program, which helps inmates and ex-offenders glue their lives back together after release from incarceration. A few times a month, McGreevey visits the jail to talk with inmates enrolled in a drug addiction counseling program.
Lots of cities and counties are trying to find ways to keep people from returning to jail, but the program in Jersey City is notable for a couple of reasons: It has recorded measurable gains since 2010 and a former governor is personally overseeing the program. Each year, about 48 percent of the 7,200 inmates in the Hudson County jail are rearrested within three months of their release. But graduates of the re-entry program have recorded much better numbers. Among the nearly 700 who have been exposed to in-jail drug counseling, the rearrest rate is 23 percent.
McGreevey’s own personal arc gives added weight to the work. After resigning from the governor’s office, he attended an Episcopalian missionary school and ended up assisting at a drug treatment program for ex-cons in Harlem. It was one of the few places where McGreevey thought he could start over. “I was filled with my own sense of shame,” he says. “But how could these people look down on me?” Two years ago, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop decided to make prisoner re-entry a piece of the city’s workforce strategy and invited McGreevey to run the program.
Now 57 and gray-haired, the former governor still has the enthusiasm of his early years in politics, which lifted him to the governorship at age 43. He peppers his assessment of the corrections system with equal parts expletives and statistics. The United States spends $74 billion per year on incarcerating people, yet “we do virtually nothing when they come out,” he says. “It’s startling how … stupid it is.”
Retrieved April 30, 2015 from http://www.governing.com/topics/public-justice-safety/gov-jersey-city-jim-mcgreevey.html