Prison reentry program gets fresh start

Mayor Toni Harp ARC ’78 announced her administration’s revitalized prison reentry program, Project Fresh Start, at a press conference on Monday afternoon at City Hall.

Project Fresh Start is designed to meet the basic needs of offenders facing the challenges of reintegrating into society after being released from prison. Although New Haven launched its prison reentry initiative in 2008, the new program marks major changes to the system.

Harp said the most significant improvement to the program from its former iteration is that employers will begin meeting with prisoners during their incarceration, rather than waiting until their release. This will allow the program to create “tailored programs” that consider the education, housing and health care of the individual offenders, among other needs.

“The lack of such a robust program leads to idle time,” Harp said. Without a plan, she added, inmates leaving prison are more likely to recidivate.

Harp said the innovation of Project Fresh Start has been made possible through efforts with the Connecticut Department of Corrections and partnerships with other organizations, such as the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project.

Jason Bartlett, the director of Project Fresh Start, affirmed that the partnership with the State Department of Corrections has led to significant changes. He said that Project Fresh Start allows the “reentry program to collaborate with the Department of Corrections from Day One,” marking a significant improvement as the program has had to receive newly released prisoners without advanced notice in the past.

Now Bartlett said that his program will receive advance emails notifying them of a prisoner’s release, as well as a police profile of that person. Bartlett said this will enable the program to assess the individual needs of each offender and devise a reentry plan before he or she is simply “dumped on Whalley Avenue.”

Project Fresh Start is also partnering with the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project to help clients fill out pardon applications. Rhys Dubin ’16, a member of the Undergraduate Prison Project, said that the goal is to spend one-on-one time with clients while helping them complete what can often be a difficult process.

In addition to these measures, Project Fresh Start will incorporate innovative new metrics that Bartlett says will assist in identifying a personalized plan for each individual offender. Such metrics will include the housing and educational status of the clients.

“If we know that somebody has gotten a GED or that somebody was formerly a carpenter, that will allow us to work ahead of time for that person,” Bartlett said.

Project Fresh Start also includes a considerable mentoring initiative. One of the mentors is Maverick Jacobs, a New Haven resident of 40 years and a former offender himself. Jacobs said he struggled to successfully reintegrate into the community for years after being released from prison.

He also said he knows firsthand how helpful a mentor can be for those in similar situations.

“After months of no job and no source of income I was tempted to go back to the streets,” Jacobs said. “With that experience, I know some of the challenges that inmates face upon their release.”

Project Fresh Start has its own office on the first floor of City Hall, where its employees and interns will work. The project also hopes to set up a workshop for clients to use in filling out job applications and creating resumes.

Harp said she expects the program to help between 50 and 100 prisoners with reentry per month.

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