A New Statewide Initiative Helps Those on Probation Find Jobs
A new statewide program called Judiciary Opportunities for Building Success was established by the New Jersey Presidents’ Council to help provide workforce development training and to help find employment opportunities for those who are on probation.
The council is made up of every president of every institution of higher level in New Jersey, including all the community colleges.
The program, funded by a $3 million grant from the State Department of Labor, is piloted by retired Superior Court Judge Mark Sandson at Stockton University, who spearheaded a movement to convert Atlantic County’s Drug Court into recovery court.
There are currently 130,000 New Jerseyans who are on probation, many for drug offenses, or who owe back child support. Sandson said.
The goal of the program is employment at a living wage with benefits, a career, and not a job, he said.
“We are trying to get people on probation into the workforce. The problem is there is a demo of people in probation who are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, who never had a job so it’s hard to just apply for a job,” Sandson said.
They need to engage in workforce development, employment training, and then employment. It’s a process to get somebody employed.
Those on probation need to learn soft skills: how to wake up at the same time every morning, get ready for work, show up early, get along with others, learn conflict resolutions, financial literacy, including learning how to open a bank account, and properly manage their money, he said.
There are employment liaisons in every county in New Jersey. They help with things like resume writing and interviewing skills that probation clients need to know before they can have a decent shot at starting a career.
For those working with people on probation, Sandson said for the first time they can get at the root of what is getting people into trouble and making mistakes. Hopefully, those mistakes can be corrected.
“What we found is that people who have a job are much less likely to be running around the streets late at night and they don’t want to lose their job. They finally have a piece of the pie, they’re not the last in every line, they’re going to have benefits so they can get their kids and their family medical treatment,” Sandson said.
Many people have the misconception that people on probation are dangerous. Therefore, it’s very difficult for them to find jobs because of the stigma, he said.
As of December 2021, the state had changed the name of drug court to recovery court. Sandson said they found it was easier for people to get a job when in recovery court, rather than in drug court, even though it was the same exact program. The name change made a big difference, he added.
Through several presentations, Sandson said the program has managed to get partners in government, business, and industry to understand that people on probation are not violent people. In many cases, it is drug or alcohol related. Most of them have never been to state prison, and hopefully, if they get a job, they will never be in state prison, he said.
Some of the businesses that are actively participating in the state JOBS probation program include Amazon, Wakefern, Hard Rock, Wayfair, Robert Wood Johnson, New Jersey Transit, Goya, Audibles, Traffic Plan, Cooper Hospital, Jim Goldie Construction, Community Food Bank, PSE&G, and Atlantic City Electric.
“This is something that needs to be done and it needs to be done now. I think people are starting to understand that this is really the best way of turning around some of the negative things that are happening within our cities, urban areas, and our suburbs in the past 10 to 20 years,” Sandson said.
Another aspect of JOBS is to provide probationers scholarships to attend New Jersey colleges, he said.
In addition to emphasizing the importance of hiring probationers, the expanded JOBS program is creating a paid internship program for students statewide to work for the state judiciary. Sandson said these internships could lead to future, well-paying jobs for students. They are paid $20 an hour and the hope is to hire directly from people who go to New Jersey colleges.
It’s no longer enough to make sure that those on probation are not committing crimes, he said. A positive agenda needs to be developed. Employment is recognized as a positive agenda. These are careers that people are being trained for, he added.
“Throughout the state, we’re trying to aim high and get people into careers. Many of our people are smart enough and capable enough to take on fairly highly paid specialties,” Sandson said.