Prison Reentry Program Gets “Fresh Start”

Thomas MacMillan PhotoAfter an embarrassing false start, the Harp administration’s prison reentry program has a new chief, a new name—and a new mission directly behind bars.

Jason Bartlett (pictured), Harp’s former campaign manager and her current youth services chief, has stepped into the role of director of the city’s effort to help the 50 to 100 inmates released back into New Haven each month reintegrate into society.

And the program has a new name: “Fresh Start.”

In his role, Bartlett has started visiting inmates in jail to meet with offenders about their plans once they return to the city. The program will enlist “mentors: to do that on a regular basis, assessing and advising prisoners as many as six months before they are released, then trying to link them up to jobs or housing or social programs and steer them away from old habits of criminal behavior, Harp said at a City Hall press conference Monday.

Harp herself visited inmates at the Whalley Avenue jail last week to discuss the city’s desire to help them start fresh lives.

The retooling of the city’s prison reentry program comes just days after Sundiata Keitazulu, the former re-entry director, resigned under pressure when he was discovered to have outstanding criminal cases.

The police department, a key part of the reentry effort, had inexplicably not been invited to Monday’s press conference.

Harp said the program’s new name—Fresh Start—“symbolizes the hope we want to instill in every returning resident.”

Beyond the name, Fresh Start will ensure successful reentry by meeting with people as they approach their release date, Harp said.

It has been proven that released prisoners who are mentored and given resources are more successful, said James Dzurenda (pictured), state commissioner for the Department of Correction.

In the past, said Bartlett, prisoners were simply dropped off from state prisons right onto Whalley Avenue, with no advance notice to the city. The state has begun emailing the city ahead of time. The new Fresh Start initiative will go further.

Part of the plan includes the collection of new “metrics” on returning prisoners—whether they have gotten a GED or an vocation skills while incarcerated, how many family members they have in New Haven, if they have any housing options available to them.

In addition to metrics, the city will be working with faith-based and community groups to send mentors in to counsel prisoners before their release.

One of those mentors will be Maverick Jacobs (pictured), who stepped to the podium at Monday’s press conference to share the vital role that supportive people played in his life when he returned from prison in the late 1980s.

Bartlett said he will not be paid extra for his work as Fresh Start director. He said he will continue his full-time job running the city’s youth services department in addition to overseeing Fresh Start.

Bartlett said Fresh Start has three staff: two interns and the recently vacated director position. A grant that was paying the salary of Keitazulu—the departed director—will run out in September. Bartlett said he is looking into more grants and hiring more staff.

Several dozen people attended Monday’s press conference, a catered event. The crowd included state Department of Correction staff, street outreach workers, and formerly incarcerated men.

“That was a little bit of an oversight on my part,” Bartlett said of the failure to include cops in Monday’s event. He said he’d been focused on “workforce development” and collaboration with the Department of Correction. He said Fresh Start will work closely with cops. “Obviously we coordinate on everything.”

Harp said after the press conference that she was invited to the Whalley Avenue jail last week, where she met with a group of about 40 or 45 inmates and spoke to them about black history and her personal experiences. Staff from Easter Seals Goodwill gave a “pep talk,” Harp said.

“It was really very interesting and inspiring,” she said.

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posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on March 4, 2014  10:56am

This story continues to be an embarrassment to the Harp administration.  It doesn’t appear as if anyone has yet given any really serious or focused thought to this program. 

It’s hard to see how anyone can do an adequate job of running a program of this nature on the side, with two interns (plus an empty administrator’s job that expires in September) as the only staff, while also serving as full-time youth director.  I suppose the job of “looking into more grants” will fall to the interns?  In other words, using their paid(?) time to write proposals about work they have never actually done themselves, in order to raise money so that someone else can be hired for a limited time to do the same thing again next year (been there, done that, got the T-shirt).  The fact that they forgot to even include the cops in their guest list is also kind of telling, isn’t it?

posted by: Tell The Truth on March 4, 2014  1:09pm

I applaud the Harp Administration for their efforts.  I look forward to seeing how the program will assist those recently released from prison.  No other municipality does what New Haven does for it’s citizens.  There are so many haters who want to bad mouth no matter what the occasion.  Try getting services like we have in any of the surrounding cities!!  Kudos to Mayor Harp and Jason Bartlett!

posted by: InformedOpinion123 on March 4, 2014  1:54pm

Wait… what? First JB is appointed as Youth Services Director with absolutely NO youth services experience. And now he will take on the additional role of managing the Fresh Start program with NO experience with prison re-entry programs. This administration is proving to be an embarrassment to the City.

posted by: UBHolden on March 4, 2014  3:20pm

Forget about Fresh Start—call this Funky Start!  This episode—starting with the appointment of someone unqualified to lead the work—is embarrassing and disheartening. I know that personally Mayor Harp supports the re-entry work and wants to improve the options for former offenders returning to New Haven.  But her hiring decisions so far just tells me she doesn’t understand what it takes to do this right.  There are some folks in this town who know how to do this—she sould call them in and talk with them to solicit their ideas.  Jason Bartlett may be an experienced political operator, but he has no experience doing re-entry work, and the fact he has openly stated he is doing this part-time (in addition to his main responsibilities) with interns tells you where this is headed.  Not good.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on March 4, 2014  5:28pm

This is nothing but a shell game being played on the inmates and more importantly the citizens of the city. 

A program that deals directly with law enforcement and yet, law enforcement wasn’t even invited to this tepid announcement.  How ridiculous is that?  If the Harp administration were serious about this program, they would immediately work towards making the intern positions permanent. 

These are just hollow attempts to appear as though there’s a genuine quest to address this community concern.

My comments would be supportive had the police officers appeared at this introduction.

posted by: robn on March 4, 2014  6:26pm

ummm, Is Mayor Harps former campaign manager now drawing two full time salaries from the city?

[Editor’s note: Bartlett said he will not be paid extra for his work as Fresh Start director.]

posted by: Walt on March 4, 2014  8:26pm

I would rather see the same   4 person staff providing similar services and job development for   folks   who have made an honest effort to succeed without being law breakers and ex-cons

Yet I know we do need to aid the ex=offenders too,  but who should get prioriy?  A real problem,  but the answer?

Your guess is as good as mine.

posted by: NHRedemption on March 5, 2014  9:11am

I think its admirable that the Harp Administration is making advances in this area.  A lot of people are carping and complaining but not enough are doing.  It only took them 45 days to change a statewide policy and get DOC to work with the City.  This shows foresight and vision and gives HOPE to those who need it most.  Everyone can bicker and try to take Mayor Harp and her people down but I m hoping for success for those in our community that are returning.

posted by: robn on March 5, 2014  9:39am


The program existed during the prior administration. The story seems to indicate that the previous version did no homework on released prisoners prior to meeting with them. Could that possibly be true? If so the retooling is a good step.

posted by: exnewhavener on March 5, 2014  10:06am

I assume he is pulling the same salary that Sundiata Keitazulu was getting?

posted by: wendy1 on March 5, 2014  12:39pm

There are no jobs or affordable living spaces in New Haven.  There are men like Robin, honest but fired from 2 jobs (business downsizing) still sleeping in the snow.  I think “Fresh Start” is a dog and pony show, too.

City gov. doesnt care about the homeless so why should it “help” ex-cons.  All talk, no action so far. 

By the way, JB may be in charge of “child services” but he didn’t do anything to help Sundiata’s children, that’s for sure. I tried to reach him in person, not easy.  Try to see someone important and they’re at a meeting every time.  Every GD time.

posted by: Perspective on March 5, 2014  2:02pm

“the Harp administration’s prison reentry program”....I’m glad they decided to rename the program.  The previous name implied there was a program in place to get folks back INTO prison.