“We’re continuing this life-altering initiative we launched in 2013, because it is clear that based not only on proven models but also on the incredible success of this program, that this violence prevention strategy works by providing offenders with an alternative of avoiding prison and choosing a different productive path in life by taking advantage of social services and training in the community,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “Simply put, this demonstrated holistic approach helps break the cycle of violence.”
Trenton Police Director Ernest T. Parrey Jr., stated “The Trenton Police Department has and will remain dedicated to improving the quality of life, reducing blight, and reducing crime in the City of Trenton. He continued, “The Trenton Police Department acknowledges that simply locking people up and throwing away the key is not solving long-term systemic public safety issues. To keep Trenton moving in a positive direction, we need to help all citizens, including ex-offenders who are seeking an alternative to a life of crime. It’s important to embrace the willingness of people to change and provide opportunities to improve themselves and continue proactive police work with the people who continue to commit crimes in Trenton. We are appreciative that Acting Attorney General Hoffman has allowed us to continue this type of work here in the City of Trenton. He has been, and remains dedicated to the good citizens of Trenton.”
The initial $1.1 million grant awarded in 2013 to the Trenton Police Department and The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) was provided to work with up to 40 adult ex-offenders and individuals at-risk of engaging in criminal conduct by providing them the opportunity to receive case management and wrap-around services (counseling, treatment, employment placement, etc.) to help them take accountability and responsibility for their lives. The program has been an unqualified success. It currently includes 77 participants – nearly double the number expected to be assisted during the initial grant period – and has received enormous buy-in and support from the community.
The outcomes for program participants also have been very encouraging. Only one participant has committed a new offense and just six committed technical parole or probation violations. Nearly all of the active participants are either employed or attending school, most have received life skills and other training from a Trenton-based non-profit service provider (Isles, Inc.). The TVRS has also extended its reach to work with family members and loved ones of program participants to build a stronger support network around them and emphasize the importance of a comprehensive approach that strengthens family and community bonds in order to change the lives of those who are willing and eager to get a new start.
“The College of New Jersey is pleased to extend its commitment to the city of Trenton through such a creative and productive partnership,” said TCNJ President R. Barbara Gitenstein. “The work we are doing is making a real difference and serves as a national model for violence reduction.”
Under the additional $1.4 million grant, also funded by the Attorney General’s Office through drug enforcement demand reduction funds, the Office of the Attorney General, the Trenton Police Department, and TCNJ have agreed to a three-year extension of the TVRS that will allow for more than 75 new participants to participate in the program between now and June 2019.
TVRS offers adult ex-offenders and individuals at-risk of engaging in criminal conduct the chance to get a new start if they are willing to be accountable for their actions. If the offer is accepted, participants are screened, their needs identified, and case management provided to help them find employment, receive counseling and treatment (if necessary), and educational opportunities. If the offer is not accepted, those individuals are made aware that continued criminal conduct will not be tolerated and aggressive law enforcement measures will be taken against them. The offer of participation is done through verbal and written invitations to attend a “call-in” event held at Galilee Baptist Church in Trenton.
The program also has been successful because of its local roots. The TVRS Coordinator grew up in Trenton and is himself an ex-offender who has worked extensively with contracted service providers for both the Department of Corrections and the State Parole Board for the past ten years. The ten outreach workers, who act as informal mentors to program participants, are all Trenton residents and active members of the community.
TVRS, in conjunction with the collaborative, multi-agency law enforcement initiative dubbed TIDE (Targeted Integrated Deployment Effort)/TAG (Targeted Anti-Gun Initiative), has helped achieve a dramatic reduction in violent crime since this three-pronged approach first launched in late 2013. Last year, the total number of murders in Trenton dropped by half and shooting murders fell by nearly 60 percent. As importantly, the federal, state, and local partnerships created by the TVRS and TIDE/TAG have not only improved the overall effort at reducing crime, but yielded stronger bonds with the residents of Trenton.
The TVRS has been recognized as a best practice by the state’s Study Commission on Violence and leadership from TVRS hosted representatives from the City of Baltimore at the November 2015 call-in event. The representatives from Baltimore expressed an interest in learning more about the program to see if it could be replicated in Baltimore in the wake of the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray.