For the past five years, Stockton University has been one of the primary institutions in New Jersey helping recovery court graduates get scholarships, training and jobs after being placed on probation.

Now thanks to a new, nearly $1 million grant from the state Department of Labor (DOL), Stockton can expand on that work.

“We’ve been the lead institution,” said Marissa Levy, Stockton’s dean of the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “We were the only ones shepherding this work for a while.”

During the last few years, Levy worked with now-retired state Judge Mark Sandson, the New Jersey Judiciary and Stockton President Harvey Kesselman to create Judiciary Opportunities for Building Success (JOBS), which helped probationers find jobs at state colleges and universities.

With the new $947,100 grant, Stockton is spearheading the creation of a one-year pilot program called SJ-JOBS for 200 probationers in Atlantic and Cape May counties. Kean and Rutgers-Camden universities and three other nonprofits also received money to create programs in other parts of the state as part of the DOL grant totaling $6 million.

“Chief Justice Stuart Rabner’s JOBS initiative is one of the best examples of a public/private partnership to improve society,” said Glenn A. Grant, administrative director of the courts. “The collaboration between the Department of Labor, the Judiciary and institutions of higher learning will help to further enhance the mission of the JOBS program as we continue working to build our network of companies and organizations who see the value and importance of giving people a second chance.”

Kesselman, who is retiring as Stockton’s president on June 30, was selected in May to be a member of the JOBS Committee along with several other judges, business leaders and state government employees.

“This is a home-run opportunity for Stockton University to continue helping reform the criminal justice system in New Jersey,” he said. “When people come out of the criminal justice system, we want to provide the tools necessary to make sure they can become productive members of society.”

Levy said the No. 1 factor in lowering the recidivism rate among probationers is the ability to provide full-time employment with good benefits. But there also needs to be job training and services that can provide mental health and financial literacy support.

The new program takes that into consideration, Levy said, as SJ-JOBS will provide a “wrap-around” approach that will offer social services, identify career goals and training and eventually a job for probationers.

“We’re not only helping people get the training they need, but we’re helping them realize that they have potential and value in society,” said Levy, who’s also Stockton’s interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. “This will help the person leave the program as a fully prepared citizen.”

Stockton will partner with Jewish Family Service of Atlantic County for mental health training, Ideal Institute of Technology in Mays Landing for job training and the Atlantic County Workforce Development Board for assistance in recruitment.

“Jewish Family Service is here to help people realize their hopes and dreams. Recovery and moving on from criminal justice system involvement requires jobs that bring both financial stability to someone’s life but also purpose and belonging. We are honored to provide the individualized supportive services that help people write their own next chapter,” said Laura Rodgers, JFS chief impact officer.

On a small scale, Levy has seen firsthand this concept work for probationers as she recalled a conversation with a recent recovery court graduate who was grateful for avoiding incarceration and eager for another chance.

“She said, ‘No one has ever believed in me. No one has ever thought that I could do something,’” Levy recounted. “‘But a judge saw that I wasn’t just a throwaway, that I had potential. The judge that put me here completely changed my life. Now it’s my responsibility to take all the things I’ve learned to do something better.’”

Both Levy and Kesselman believe this pilot program can go a long way toward doing that.

The job training, through Ideal, will focus on three fields — hospitality, construction trades and technology programs. Participants will also receive career counseling, training in job search techniques, resume preparation assistance, interview preparation and basic business skills.

Kesselman said he’s especially excited that as part of the grant, the university will provide virtual and in-person financial literacy workshops to all program participants through the Stockton Center for Economic and Financial Literacy (SCEFL) and the university’s Educational Technology Training Center.

“Part of SCEFL’s mission is to develop engaged and informed citizens and provide educational opportunities to diverse learners,” Kesselman said. “The SJ-JOBS program is a perfect fit, and it will demonstrate how spending on education can leave a positive impact on society.”

As a criminologist, Levy is also excited to study the effectiveness of the program throughout the state.

“This is a model that could go national,” she said. “The whole purpose of what we are doing in New Jersey and what we’ve been doing for the past five years with bail reform is to get to this point, so we can support those in our community who are justice-involved.

“This allows us to look at people exiting the system as whole people with a collection of needs; to look at all the ways in which, perhaps, society has not fulfilled the promises that we should.”

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Stockton University
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