SHU’s Criminal Justice Program leads conversation about prisoner reentry

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Photo Courtesy of Joshua Siegel
From left are James Plousis, LaShelle White-Corley and John Paitakes.

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Marking National Criminal Justice Month, more than 80 members of the Seton Hall community participated in the Criminal Justice Program’s panel discussion on prisoner reentry on March 15. The panelists included James Plousis, the New Jersey State Parole Board chairman; Seton Hall alumna LaShelle White-Corley, a social worker and licensed clinical drug and alcohol counselor; and Seton Hall senior faculty associate John Paitakes, who served 29 years as a probation officer and was appointed for six years to the New Jersey Parole Board.

“Felons face major barriers during societal reintegration, including: obtaining housing, securing stable employment and finding acceptance within the community,” Paitakes said at the event.

The panelists shared their knowledge on rehabilitation and prisoner recidivism, providing career insights into emerging efforts to reintegrate prisoners into society.

“Can we uphold the rights of the offender who violated the rights of a citizen?” White-Corley asked at the event.

Exploring the balance of punishment, rehabilitation and productivity, she shared that 95 percent of prisoners are released at some point, so it is important to consider models of effective treatment during incarceration. Also affected are the children of inmates, who often lack a voice during the process and struggle to come to terms with the consequences of an incarcerated parent.

“The best way to give them a voice is to have a conversation with them, expose them to support groups and networks of other children contending with the same situation so they know they are not alone,” she said.

White-Corley discussed Michigan’s system of services designed to promote a smoother integration into inmates’ former communities as a model for the nation. Michigan’s prison reentry initiative combines a number of community programs such as faith-based counseling, a family support system and job training.

Plousis shared his experiences as U.S. marshal for the district of New Jersey and Cape May County sheriff as well as his current position as New Jersey Parole Board chairman. He credits New Jersey with its innovative drug courts for “substantially reducing our prison population.”

He explored the changing landscape of the debate over criminal justice reform. For example, in earlier years while running for sheriff, people would ask about college courses for inmates or what food they were served. Now there are powerful conversations and changes taking place.

“New Jersey is leading the way in reducing recidivism and has created programs to redress traffic tickets and child support, so previous offenders do not face additional charges when reentering society,” he said. “Many families have been directly impacted. People are becoming much more compassionate about the process and the act of rehabilitation.”

Paitakes agreed, noting, “New Jersey has been a trendsetter to reducing the prison population from 35,000 inmates 15 years ago to an estimated 21,000 at this time.”

For more information about prisoner reentry and Seton Hall’s Criminal Justice Program, contact John Paitakes at 973-275-5886 or John.Paitakes@shu.edu and visit the website here.

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