Camden based prison re-entry program celebrates a milestone

David Madden
August 01, 2019 - 3:05 pm
Hope Hall celebrates 20 years of success in Camden.

David Madden/KYW Newsradio

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CAMDEN, N.J. (KYW Newsradio) — A private program that helps New Jersey prison inmates transition to life on the outside celebrates 20 years of success in Camden.

Hope Hall has assisted more than 8,000 people to get back on the straight and narrow. Operated by Volunteers of America, the facility provides access to job training, drug treatment, attitude adjustment and more.

"Folks deserve a second chance, sometimes a third, sometimes a fourth," VOA Delaware Valley director Dan Lombardo said. "And it’s up to us to be what we are as an organization responding to the needs of those returning to society."

One of their success stories is Eric Echeverria, a former prison inmate who’s now in charge of the hall’s Addiction Treatment Program.

"It would not be possible had I not come through this program," Echeverria said. "It was here that I got the cognitive restructuring skills, changing my thinking, changing my attitude, the substance abuse treatment that I needed. All those things I got right here." 

Not bad for someone who did 10 years for drugs and weapons offenses.

"The things I did, it wasn’t circumstantial," Echeverria added. "It was choices and they helped me to understand that if I used half of the energy and time I spent trying to do the wrong thing and switch it around and try to do the right thing, that great things can happen and they have."

While not every story is a success, state officials insist this place is making a difference.

"18.3% of people that go through Hope Hall are reincarcerated. That’s less than one third of the national rate," said New Jersey Acting Corrections commissioner Marcus Hicks. "So we believe that from a department standpoint, we are definitely getting value for our service." 

Up to 175 inmates are housed here at any one time. Many get into the neighborhood to help with everything from street cleanups to holiday celebrations during their stays, which can last up to 24 months before they’re released on parole.