Panel calls for hepatitis treatment for former NJ inmates
TRENTON — New Jersey should mandate hepatitis B and C screening and treatment for former inmates, along with dozens of other initiatives, as the state addresses how former inmates reintegrate into society, a state commission said Tuesday.
Former Democratic Gov. Jim McGreevey, alongside lawmakers, former inmates and a handful of other stakeholders unveiled their 100 recommendations as part of the Commission on Reentry Services’ 101-page report to the governor and Legislature.
The report comes amid changing attitudes about criminal justice among policymakers, who in New Jersey did away with the cash bail system in 2017, and have shown interest in addressing factors leading to imprisonment and recidivism.
The report casts New Jersey and the United States as outliers compared to other states and nations, saying the state has the highest racial disparity in state prisons in the country. McGreevey also cited a 2018 study by the nonpartisan nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative that showed the United States has higher rates of incarceration than other countries.
“America, unfortunately, has a distorted love affair with incarceration,” said McGreevey, who left the governorship in 2004, and now heads the Kearny-based New Jersey Reentry Corporation. “Sadly, tragically we incarcerated the greatest percentage of our citizens than any nation in the world.”
The commission looked at a half-dozen different categories aimed at helping inmates once they’re out of prison, including health care, addiction treatment, job training and housing.
Among the commission’s findings was that mental and physical health conditions hamper ex-inmates’ return from prison. The report also said that up to 35% of prison populations are likely to have a strain of hepatitis, compared with just 1% of the general population.
The commission asks lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy to mandate hepatitis screenings and treatments, along with ensuring that qualified former inmates are enrolled on Medicaid.
Among the other recommendations were limiting the percentage of wages that could be garnished for ex-inmates required to pay child support, as well as making an inmate’s outstanding municipal fines income based.
Haywood Gandy is a former inmate who says he did 20 years for armed robbery, carjacking and kidnapping. He credits re-entry programs for helping put him on a better path. Gandy says he’s now on an academic scholarship at Rutgers.
Gandy highlighted the difficult of readjusting to life, particularly technological changes that happen over two decades, as a barrier to re-entry.
“If some of you just think back 20 years at least you have the walking memory of going through these years. It was lights out for me; 20 years later lights on,” he said.
Lawmakers established the commission last year and tasked it with coming up with recommendations aimed at removing obstacles that convicts face when they leave prison.
Legislators, including Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney, praised the report. It’s unclear whether action will be taken, or when.
The cost of the initiatives is also unclear.
McGreevey was elected governor in 2002. He announced in August 2004 that he was “a gay American” and acknowledged having a gay affair, becoming the nation’s first openly gay governor. He resigned that year.
He has been a prominent figure in the state urging the public sector to address the overdose crisis, as well as prisoner re-entry.