By Sophie Nieto-Munoz, New Jersey Monitor.
This article was originally published on May 8, 2023 by New Jersey Monitor.

A work program for people with disabilities and another aimed at hiring formerly incarcerated people could be coming to New Jersey under two bills approved by lawmakers Monday.

The Senate Labor Committee unanimously approved two measures — one to create a second chance program to provide work opportunities to people released from prison, and the other to establish a program within the Department of Labor to provide training and hiring opportunities for people with disabilities.

Sen. Tony Bucco (R-Morris), who sponsored the second chance program bill, said it would give people reentering society a chance to “work and assimilate.”

“I think this second chance program will provide many folks with an opportunity to change their lives around and become productive citizens of society,” Bucco said.

2011 Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences study on reentry, recidivism, and employment found that employment was the most important factor in decreasing recidivism. But people with criminal records face barriers to entry — stigma from employers, deterrence from applying, and lack of job skills or education.

Bucco commended former Gov. Jim McGreevey for his work in helping people who are released from prison secure mental health services, housing, and jobs through the nonprofit New Jersey Reentry Corp. The program approved Monday would be “another tool” advocates like McGreevey can use, Bucco said.

The bill still needs full approval from the Senate before heading to the governor’s desk. The Assembly unanimously advanced the measure in February.

Tom Baffuto, executive director of Arc of New Jersey, a statewide organization working with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said the second bill would provide proper support so that “people with disabilities can be a contributing and vital part of our workforce.”

“Just as it does for those without disabilities, employment immerses a person into the folds of the community and expands his or her social networks,” he said.

Under the measure, the state labor and human services departments would maintain a jobs program with organizations that have at least five years of experience working with people with disabilities. A website would also be developed to help people connect with those organizations for job trainings, allow employers to post job openings, and educate employers and employees on state labor laws and employment guidelines.

The measure’s Assembly companion awaits a hearing in that chamber’s labor committee.

New Jersey Monitor is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Jersey Monitor maintains editorial independence.

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