Christie unveils Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative in Camden


cathedralkitchen-webGovernor’s Office, Tim Larsen

Gov. Chris Christie and First Lady Mary Pat Christie take a tour of the kitchen before a press conference to announce the Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative at the Cathedral Kitchen in Camden on Monday, Nov. 28.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came to the Cathedral Kitchen in Camden on Monday, Nov. 28, to announce a new initiative to expand the state’s prisoner re-entry, rehabilitation and preventive programs in an effor to help nonviolent drug offenders effectively re-enter society and lead productive lives.

Before holding a press conference, Christie and First Lady Mary Pat Christie toured the kitchen.

Founded in 1976, and originally located at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the Cathedral Kitchen is the largest emergency food provider in the city.

In 2008 it moved into a new facility, located on Federal Street in East Camden, where it serves more than 100,000 meals a year. It also provides meals for off-site locations, including shelters, after-school programs, food pantries and smaller soup kitchens.

In addition, it hosts medical services and a dental clinic, and it sponsors a culinary arts program with job skills training to unemployed, unskilled, homeless citizens, re-entering prisoners and parolees.

Camden resident LeBaron Harvey, 30, has been employed by the Cathedral Kitchen, as a chef for two years.

After serving time in prison for a drug charge and spending time in a halfway house, Harvey was paroled, and began volunteering at Cathedral Kitchen almost four years ago, where he eventually entered the culinary arts program there and was valedictorian of his graduating class two years ago. Shortly after graduation, he was hired as a chef.

To Harvey, Christie’s initiative is “a beautiful thing.”

Drug offenders will “get a stronger support system (than locked up in prison), and support from individuals who will hold you accountable, and keep you off the streets.”

“We need it,” he said.

Christie’s executive order will expand New Jersey’s Drug Court program; appoint a Governor’s Office Re-Entry Coordinator; and create a Governor’s Task Force on Recidivism Reduction, with an ongoing program assessment, and the start of a recidivism database.

Christie said the state can “do better to make our re-entry programs more efficient, successful and effective — helping even more individuals get the support they need to change their lives for the better and break the cycle of offending and reoffending.”

New Jersey already spends more than $225 million, not including over $40 million for the Drug Court program, on its various re-entry and prevention programs across the state, but before the new initiative was announced, there was no process to implement these programs strategically, or measure their performance.

The new program will “get addicted offenders the help they need, while also measuring and reforming or eliminating ineffective programs, and directing our resources in a smart, strategic and coordinated way to those programs that are making a positive difference in changing lives,” said Gov. Christie.

The governor named Lisa Puglisi as Coordinator for Prisoner Re-entry. She will also co-chair the Task Force for Recidivism Reduction, and serve as the principal policy advisor to the governor on re-entry and recidivism reduction.

James Plousis, the chairman of the State Parole Board, will join Puglisi as co-chair of the Task Force.