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New Haven to use $2M federal grant to expand support for people at risk of incarceration

New Haven Register - 12/4/2023

Dec. 4—NEW HAVEN — Irvin, 44, who lives in the city's Newhallville section, has seen the inside of a prison three times, all as a result of convictions for firearms-related offenses.

He never wants to go back.

To ensure that, he's committed to doing things right this time. But to resist the temptations of easy money that might draw him back into the kinds of activities that landed him in jail, he needs a job to make enough money to take care of himself, his wife and four children.

The good news is he's got a job now as a grill cook at a Branford donut and sandwich shop. He obtained it with the help and support of Raquel Ferguson, a social worker and case manager with Project M.O.R.E., through a broader program called Program for Reintegration, Engagement, Safety and Support (P.R.E.S.S.).

The good news for others like Irvin, who asked that his last name not be used for this story, is that the city is now expanding the P.R.E.S.S. initiative, a collaboration between New Haven and several community partners, thanks to a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice'sBureau of Justice Assistance.

"Having a job is one of the most important things to me because it's keeping me stable financially and it allows me to take care of my kids," Irvin said, who was locked up the first time on a charge of first-degree assault with a firearm and the last two times on charges of possession of a firearm. "It's extremely hard" to recover from incarceration, Irvin said. "People do background checks. After somebody knows, it gets hard."

When that happens, "you think about something you used to do and you want to go back to it," he said. "It's easy to go back to it."

Since being released from prison almost a year ago, he's worked hard to do things right so he doesn't go back. He's been working with Ferguson since last winter. "She helped me get employment. ... She put me in contact with the NAACP," which has a program to help match ex-offenders with employers willing to hire them, he said.

"Raquel is helping me with housing," Irvin said. "She's someone I can call who can help me. It's an excellent program."

Officials from several agencies, including Mayor Justin Elicker and Police Chief Karl Jacobson, announced the federal grant and the expansion of the P.R.E.S.S. program Monday at the CT VIP headquarters.

"You can get a sense" at what a collaboration P.R.E.S.S. is "just by the number of people speaking," said Elicker, joined by about 20 partners, eight of whom spoke.

"It is no secret that cities in Connecticut ... are struggling with gun violence," Elicker said. In 2022, 150 people were shot in New Haven and while that number is down to 92 so far in 2023, more have died from their injuries and the number of homicides has risen from 14 in 2022 to 22 so far in 2023, he said.

New and better technology "has been enormously helpful," and the city is about to fill a director slot for its new Office of Violence Prevention, but the work of P.R.E.S.S. and its partners is important to help keep people at risk out of trouble, Elicker said.

"We are a second-chance society in New Haven," he said. "We believe in everyone's chance to land on two feet. But 32 percent of people who go to jail go back ... within a year of getting out." That rises to 45 percent after two years and 63 percent after three years, Elicker said.

Those are the statewide averages. But for P.R.E.S.S. clients, the recidivism rate to date is just 14 percent, Elicker said.

Carlos Sosa-Lombardo, executive director of the city Department of Community Resilience, said the grant will help the P.R.E.S.S. initiative and its affiliates "provide wrap-around support to those at highest risk of gun violence."

The grant will enable the city and its partners to increase the number of clients served, including those who have not been incarcerated but might be at risk of involvement with firearms because they are gang members or for other reasons.

It will add two full-time life coaches at P.R.E.S.S. partner CT VIP, Connecticut Violence Intervention and Prevention, to provide intensive, day-to-day support to supplement existing case managers as clients face challenges to reintegration, Sosa-Lombardo said.

The grant will also add a workforce development and career resource specialist at Project MORE, another P.R.E.S.S. partner. The specialist will broker partnerships with employers, vocational programs/organizations and education or training programs to develop reliable pipelines for P.R.E.S.S. clients.

It will also help fund support for basic needs and employment training programs that will be available to clients through partner 4-CT.

Finally, it will add a family case manager to provide support to co-parents, partners and children of P.R.E.S.S. clients through partner Project Longevity.

"Imagine someone who was born and raised in New Haven, made choices" that resulted in them being incarcerated "and now they're coming home," said Dijonee Talley, the Department of Community Resilience special projects director overseeing the initiative.

"Before P.R.E.S.S., there was no way to know" whom they were going to engage with and what sort of help they would get once they returned home, she said.

Now, officials are in a position to say, "We want you safe and out of jail. What do you need?" Talley said. "We really do sit with these clients once a week" and quickly "get them involved in a job-training program."

The grant will also "pay for day care while they're at training," she said.

Jacobson said police have always tried to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society, but "I always felt like law enforcement was dumped with all the responsibilities."

The fact is, "the police need help. We can't do it all," he said. "This group effort has really helped us to be a better police department."

Lou Mangini, senior staffer and constituent services manager for U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, read a letter from DeLauro announcing the $2 million grant.

"I think we should do more to end the gun violence epidemic," DeLauro said. "We have a moral responsibility to keep guns out of the hands of those who would do harm" and "your work here is saving lives."


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