After facing some criticism for allowing a reentry program to operate out of the Danforth Memorial Library on Broadway, library director Corey Fleming appears to have assuaged City Council members fears over the initiative that will serve ex-prisoners from around the region.
Fleming told the City Council the library already provides services to “returning citizens.” For example, ex-prisoners are able to go into the library to use computers, put together resumes, and search for jobs online.
“We’re doing that work now. We’re not changing anything. This grant just gives us additional resources,” said Fleming last Tuesday. The reentry program, one of six in the state funded through a $628,774 federal grant via the New Jersey State Library, will open this month. Other libraries participating in the “Fresh Start @ Your Library” program are Long Branch, Newark, Trenton, Atlantic City, and Cumberland County.
A social worker will be on site two days a week, said Fleming, to assist clients. New Jersey State Library will also pay for GED preparation materials and testing services for 50 former prisoners at each of the libraries.
“I have no issues with reentry. My concern is why this location?” asked Lilisa Mimms, councilwoman at-large. She began questioning the program and demanding an answer in early December after reading about the impending opening of the reentry center in a Paterson Times story. “All of this sounds great, but the spillover for the community is really a concern.”
Fleming said the Main Branch on Broadway has the most resources. It also has a bigger customer base relative to other branches in various parts of the city.
“What we’re trying to do is help people be better and move on with their life,” said Tracy Pearson, president of the Library Board of Trustees. “The keyword is ex-offender. They’ve done their time. They want to change and if they [want to] change they’re going to come to the library.”
Pearson opposed locating the program at a satellite location. He said when someone returns to society, they will walk into the library like everyone else. He pointed out it’s “only” a two-year program.
“What happens is they come in from all over the county, they come and get whatever services, but they never leave and then they become a concern for Paterson,” said Mimms.
Mimms worried the program will bring in people from throughout Passaic County and increase the burden on police and public works services.
“How many people are you looking to service?” asked Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman.
“As many people as we can service,” answered Fleming.
Cotton worried the ex-offenders will come in contact with children visiting the library. Fleming said the adult and children sections are in different parts of the library.
Mimms asked what about sex offenders coming out of prison participating in the reentry program. Fleming said sex offenders are barred from coming into the library.
Mimms on Wednesday said her concerns were addressed by the library director. Cotton, who represents the area where the reentry center will open, softened up after Fleming answered her questions.
“It’s a big struggle, especially if you have no family members to help you and you rely on people that you don’t even know to help you get back on the right road,” said Cotton.
The Danforth Memorial Library is located in the most crime-ridden part of Paterson. Prostitutes, drug peddlers, and criminals of all sorts roam the vicinity of the library.
“My concern is for the brothers and sisters that’s coming home. What you’re doing is putting them back in the belly other beast; they deserve better than that; they deserve to be an environment that’s free of drugs, that’s free of crime, and free of prostitution.”