Volunteer Lawyers for Justice Receives $60,000 Grant from The Fund for New Jersey

Top Quote Grant Earmarked for Comprehensive Study of VLJ's Newark Reentry Legal Services Program (ReLeSe) in Effort to Replicate Program. End Quote
  • Newark, NJ (1888PressRelease) March 05, 2011 - Volunteer Lawyers for Justice (VLJ) has received a first-time $60,000 grant from The Fund for New Jersey. With this grant, Newark, N.J.-based VLJ will undertake a comprehensive evaluation of its three-year-old reentry project, Newark Reentry Legal Services (ReLeSe), to determine whether legal reentry programs can be counted among successful reentry initiatives to inform replication and potentially impact public policy and legislation. ReLeSe assists low-income Essex County residents with criminal records address the civil legal barriers that serve as obstacles to their successful community reintegration.

    "This generous grant from The Fund for New Jersey enables us to look at ReLeSe from all angles and will give us the data necessary to refine our program, assist other counties in NJ or states who have expressed interest in replicating ReLeSe, as well as inform public policy and legislative initiatives in the area of prisoner reentry," said Karen Sacks, Esq., founding executive director of VLJ. "The study will focus on what happens after we help our clients, learning if they find meaningful employment or if they end up back in jail. This type of information helps us address what else needs to be done in intervening stages."

    Established in 2001, VLJ has grown from a grass roots effort of 30 volunteer attorneys in Essex County to a state-wide not-for-profit with five staff attorneys and more than 1,500 volunteer attorneys aiding thousands of low-income individuals each year. VLJ's ReLeSe assists its clients with driver's license restoration, resolution of long out-standing municipal matters, modification of child support orders, and the expungement of criminal records through direct in-house representation as well as through referrals to volunteer attorneys.

    Based in New Brunswick, N.J., The Fund for New Jersey supports organizations working in the areas of social and economic opportunity, the environment, and generally progressive public policy initiatives aimed at improving the lives of New Jersey residents. The grant for VLJ's ReLeSe study encompasses a 15-month time period, including 9 months of data collection.

    National Development and Research Institutes, Inc. (NDRI), a Manhattan-based national research organization, which has conducted significant research in the criminal justice field since 1976, has agreed to partner with VLJ to develop a sound, scientific study, oversee data collection, analyze the data, and produce a final written report as to the findings.

    In 2010, ReLeSe expanded its expungement services due to changes in New Jersey legislation. In addition to ReLeSe, VLJ's programs include free legal counsel and advice; educational seminars on various legal matters such as consumer law, bankruptcy, family law, and education; and direct representation for at-risk individuals facing critical civil legal issues.

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