Prison re-entry program denied grant

City Hall officials last week were denied $750,000 in federal funding that would have been used to help ex-convicts reintegrate into the community.

The grant, for which state officials applied earlier this year, was slated to fund New Haven’s Prison Re-entry Initiative, a program that aims to help ex-felons find housing, employment and training. Amy Meek LAW ’09, the city’s newly appointed prison re-entry director, said the denial was due to high demand and that officials hope to reapply for the grant at the end of the year.

So far, the initiative has received only $350,000 from a U.S. Department of Justice grant, but the grant expires in 2011. Meek said there is no assurance the program will continue past that date.

“No one can predict the future,” she said.

Still, Meek said she was not shocked that the city’s application was rejected. More than 100 cities and states combined applied for the federal funds, and so far only 15 have been granted money.

“With so many states in need, it was never a sure thing,” Meek said. “So now we’re looking for creative ways to do more with less.”

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said in February that no citywide effort to reduce crime can be successful without a prison re-entry initiative. New Haven is a city with a large and ever-growing population of ex-felons. New Haven Police Department spokesman Joseph Avery said approximately 25 prisoners are released back into New Haven every week. With few opportunities and little job training, many head right back into a life of crime, Avery added.

Indeed, Meek said, ex-prisoners are responsible for the bulk of crime in the city. Of all newly arrested criminals, 75 percent have at least one prior conviction. In city shootings, 80 percent of suspects and 75 percent of victims are ex-felons, she said.

City Hall officials rely on the federal government to keep their prison re-entry program alive. Although the state’s request for more federal funding was rejected, Meek said the application process was not a total bust. As state correction officials drafted the application, they worked in tandem with city officials. Now, state and city officials will be able to work more closely on collaborative prison re-entry programs, Meek added.

The potential expansion of the city’s prison re-entry program could have a strong impact in local neighborhoods, said members from two community groups interviewed Thursday.

“A large percent of prisoners are looking to reform,” said Morris Moreland, vice president of the city prison re-entry group Project M.O.R.E. Inc. “Most feel they’ve served their time, and they want to reintegrate with their families and with society.”

“It’s a real shame the city didn’t get those dollars,” he said.

The $750,000 federal grant would have come from the appropriations of the Second Chance Act, passed by Congress in April 2008 to distribute $330 million to state governments to improve rehabilitation efforts for ex-convicts.

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