"It was my own fall to grace and working with offenders in Harlem and at Hudson that has changed my vision and my understanding of what prison should be," he said. "Incarceration as we practice it in America is an abysmal failure."
Referring to the percentage of convicted felons in the U.S. who commit another felony within three years of being released, he added, "If any business in America had a 66 percent failure rate, it would be shut down."
The jail's program is funded by a $750,000 grant from the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the U.S. Justice Department. Hudson County matches that, and the state pays $120,000. The money goes toward addiction counseling services to participants for up to 90 days before they leave jail and transitional housing, job skill and other services after they leave. The Justice Department cites it as one of the two top re-entry programs nationwide.
The program has been shown to cut recidivism by more than half, from a rate of 53 percent for Hudson County prisoners who are released without treatment to 22 percent for women who have gone through it.
Put another way, 13 of the 160 women who can go through the program in a year are returning with a new offense, compared with 33 women out of 160 without treatment. Keeping 20 people from returning to the jail for a year saves taxpayers in the state's most densely populated county $942,040, according to therapist Frank Mazza, who keeps statistics on the program.
"Being in that program completely prepared me for everything I'm facing," said Lisa Buchek, who was released a year ago, has been reunited with her daughters and is studying to be a substance-abuse counselor.
But the 41-year-old mother of two still struggles. Despite having a master's degree, she is working at a low-wage job because of her record. She and the girls are staying with friends until she saves enough to rent an apartment.
"It worked for me," she said of the program. "It was completely nurturing; it meant everything. I worked on myself tremendously."
A similar program for male inmates started in July and has a wait list.