ELIZABETH, NJ — Local leaders and activists joined with N.J. Assemblyman Jamel Holley, D-20th Legislative District, on the steps of the Union County Courthouse on Sept. 15 to voice support for his proposed legislation, calling for the establishment of a state Division on Violence Prevention and Intervention, within the state Department of Law and Public Safety.
Holley, who has developed a statewide reputation for championing social justice issues, said the proposed state legislation is among the strongest he has ever written, calling for communities across the state to have specific resources to prevent violence and support families in crisis.
“This powerful, comprehensive bill would ensure each and every county in our state provides well-coordinated and accessible violence prevention resources to their residents,” Holley said, noting that the program hinges on local volunteer and community support in each county.
Holley was joined by former state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-20th District, and community activist Salaam Ismiall, as well as other local leaders, all of whom proclaimed full support for the proposed law and urged the state legislature to move the bill quickly to Gov. Phil Murphy for signature.
Lesniak noted that the legislation emphasizes collaboration among all agencies that work with at-risk populations, identifying crosscutting risk factors and prevention strategies. “This law would establish working groups, to foster the difficult discussions we need in areas of homicide and suicide prevention, youth violence, drug abuse and other issues that are jeopardizing the future of our youngest generations,” the former senator said.
The bill encourages local organizations that provide violence prevention services to pursue grants, as well as offering the technical assistance they need to secure funding.
Holley is also calling for a directory of existing violence prevention services and activities in each county. The division would also develop and recommend services to be funded by local governing bodies, including interpersonal violence and suicide prevention programs.
“We also want this state division to identify vacant properties and existing community spaces that may be transformed for use by local organizations,” Holley said, noting that these facilities would house violence-prevention activities and supportive services for at-risk youth and their families.
The legislation also calls for:
• Partnering with colleges and universities to develop an evaluation tool for violence prevention and reduction strategies, as well as to partner on securing the needed grants.
• Providing assistance to ex-offenders who are transitioning back into the community through employment assistance, treatment, counseling and housing.
• Incorporating the services of ex-offenders to serve as mentors or role models for at-risk youth.
Ismiall, director of National United Youth Council, a social services agency in Elizabeth, said street violence has become a public health crisis.
“It’s totally out of control,” Ismiall said. “Cities all over the state are crying out now. Violence has become more of a culture — and even a way of life — to some of these kids on the street. With no remorse, they’ll go to jail readily, some of them. That is why the assemblyman’s bill is so vital. It is a critical tool to turning the tide to save the next generation.”