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Update from 5/22/24 NJT Meeting with NJ DOC Commissioner Victoria Kuhn

On May 22, NJT leaders and staff including Edwin Ortiz of the Returning Citizens Support Group, Talitha Turner of Second Chance Quest, Rev. Galindo King of Freedom House and New Life, as well as Mike Gecan and  Al-Tariq Witcher of New Jersey Together and Metro IAF met with New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) Commissioner Victoria Kuhn and her staff. Here are several important updates from that meeting, including:

1. Criminal Sentencing Disposition Committee Reinstated: The committee has been reinstated, which is a significant step forward in addressing criminal sentencing issues. The Commissioner wants to engage the Returning Citizens Support Group to help strategize sentencing reforms.  

2. Aging Prison Population:  Currently, 25% of the prison population is over 50 years old. This demographic is driving up the cost per prisoner. This is why the budget is increasing, even though the number of prisoners is decreasing. 


3. Dorm Like Housing: DOC is building special housing for detainees that are enrolled in school. The housing will have a dorm-like layout to foster a supportive learning environment.  This is a unique and potentially pioneering strategy.  The sign up rate has not been high, but we may be able to help distribute the information.

4. Peer Mentoring Programs: The DOC will be setting up peer mentoring programs within the facilities. Mentors will be compensated at the higher end of the pay scale and will receive job training, which is an excellent initiative for skill development and support.

5. Technology Updates: JPay will be replaced by ViaPath. Prisoners will receive a free tablet with phone and video capabilities. These tablets will also provide free access to education, health, and medical content. We requested to add the fines and fees document to the tablets for easy access.

6. Data and Statistics: Commissioner Kuhn will provide us with the statistics and information that would be helpful to New Jersey Together in its ongoing efforts to improve conditions within the prison system and facilitate constructive transitions for people upon release. 

7. Standardized Wages and Commissary Adjustments: The Commissioner has standardized wages across the state and made adjustments to commissary prices. We discussed the unfair split of the money made by commissary. The Commissioner is working on implementing a cap on commissary product prices.

8. Statewide Family Reunification Visitation Program: Second Chance Quest (SCQ team) shared during the meeting that they are currently running a Family Visitation Program(FVP) at ECCF, providing children with engaged and intentional family visits. There is a strong desire to extend FVP’s statewide. The Commissioner expressed curiosity about the logistics and requested SCQ leaders to share their backend information, detailing how the program operates.  

9. Pre-Sentencing Reports: We discussed the need to include more trauma-informed questions in pre-sentencing reports to better understand the backgrounds and needs of individuals.

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