JERSEY CITY — Following the announcement late last summer of a specific commission on formerly incarcerated women's return to society, the New Jersey Reentry Corporation on Tuesday launched a new program to better facilitate training, employment, and health care for these residents.

But the design of The Women's Project does not solely revolve around female ex-prisoners, extending to their children and families as well as community stakeholders.

To that end, NJRC chairman and former former Gov. Jim McGreevey was joined virtually for Tuesday's unveiling by current state First Lady Tammy Murphy, whose Nurture NJ awareness campaign is aimed at reducing maternal and infant deaths across all of the Garden State's diverse ethnic groups.

Mrs. Murphy said that in New Jersey, Black mothers are seven times more likely to die from maternity-related complications than white moms, and Black babies are three times more likely than whites to die before their first birthday.

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Much of that demographic disparity, Murphy said, can be laid at the feet of New Jersey's prison system and its historical inability to set ex-convicts up for successful outcomes after leaving prison.

"The cause of our maternal health crisis is, quite frankly, institutional racism. We created this crisis, and it's on us to recognize that failure and correct it," she said. "Our justice system is meant to rehabilitate, not just punish people and funnel them into never-ending cycles of despair and failure."

Fixing these ingrained problems requires contributions from various partners, and Murphy said NJRC's new initiative pairs well with the goals of a new strategic plan, to be unveiled by Nurture NJ next week, to reduce the maternal mortality rate in the state by 50% over the next five years.

"The reasons for our Black maternal and infant health crisis are many, complex, insidious, and entrenched, which is why we need everyone at the table," Murphy said. "Understanding that these negative outcomes do not happen in silos is one of the most important lessons we need to learn to make progress on these overlapping problems."

Murphy said one mistake or error in judgment should not determine the entire course of a woman's life, and setting women on the right track after a stay in prison will lead to more healthy mothers, healthy babies, and happy families.

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