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Christie, Bridge Investigator to Attend Same Event

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the federal prosecutor investigating political payback allegations involving the Republican’s administration are both scheduled to attend a prisoner re-entry conference later this month.

Governor Chris Christie holds Superstorm Sandy Recovery / Rebuilding Town Hall in Sayreville
Governor Chris Christie holds Superstorm Sandy Recovery / Rebuilding Town Hall in Sayreville (Governor’s Office/Tim Larsen)

Christie is confirmed as the afternoon keynote speaker at the daylong conference in Jersey City while U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman is set to give the morning keynote address. The event focuses on providing post-prison services that reduce recidivism.

Fishman is leading a criminal investigation into a scheme by Christie’s aides to block traffic near the George Washington Bridge to retaliate against a local mayor.

Christie, who was Fishman’s predecessor as the state’s top federal prosecutor, has denied knowing about the plot in advance or while massive traffic jams were occurring in Fort Lee last September.

A report released last week by lawyers hired by Christie cleared the governor of wrongdoing. Fishman’s investigation and a parallel probe by a state legislative committee are continuing.

The scandal has become a major distraction for Christie, who has seen his poll numbers drop and doubts arise about his viability as a 2016 presidential candidate.

The April 17 event involves other political heavyweights: Former Gov. Jim McGreevey organized it, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop is hosting it, and Sen. Cory Booker is a panelist. Former NBA player Jayson Williams, who served 18 months in jail for the fatal shooting of a limousine driver, will speak about how he re-entered society after being released from prison in 2012.

Fulop told The Associated Press the issue is one that Republicans and Democrats can agree on, setting aside the politics of the bridge scandal — at least for one day.

Fulop, a Democrat, previously recounted how members of Christie’s cabinet engaged in retribution politics by abruptly canceling meetings after he refused to endorse the governor’s re-election bid. Fishman is also examining accusations by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer that Christie staff threatened to withhold Superstorm Sandy recovery funds unless she approved a favored redevelopment project.

“The need for reform is greater than politics,” McGreevey said, noting that both Christie and Fishman have championed post-prison reforms and embraced incarceration alternatives for addicts.

The former governor, who resigned in 2004, said the participation of Christie and Fishman “will bring a greater sense of focus that these are good and decent people raised under the worst of circumstances.”

McGreevey, executive director of Jersey City’s Employment and Training Program that runs the city’s re-entry program, has become a national expert on reducing recidivism that began with a mentoring program for women at the Hudson County Jail.

The approach starts with treating addictions that plague nearly three-fourths of inmates, and continues with providing stable housing, counseling and job training that leads to employment. The model is working so well in Hudson County that early results show recidivism can be cut in half, McGreevey said.

Fulop believes the partnership between the city and the jail can become a national model.

The goal of the conference is to further a prison reform agenda built on the idea that a system of incarceration without rehabilitation is expensive, inhumane and doesn’t work.

McGreevey said two-thirds of the people incarcerated in the traditional system commit new offenses and return to jail within three years of release.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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