Former Nets player Jayson Williams says re-entering society after serving time for fatally shooting a chauffeur in 2002 was more difficult than being in prison.
Williams was an all-star player who later gained notoriety for mishandling a shotgun while showing it to friends. He served 18 months, then was sent to Rikers Island jail in New York for a year for drunken driving. He was released in 2012.
"When I got out, it was more difficult than any of my days in prison," Williams told an audience attending an inmate re-entry conference in Jersey City on Thursday. "People who once paid a magnificent amount of money to watch me play didn't want me living next door to them."
The 46-year-old Williams said he lived in a hotel for seven months even though New Jersey's former secretary of state was vouching for him.
"It was because I was a convicted felon," Williams said. If inability to find housing can happen to a popular former professional athlete who had been incarcerated, "how can I expect anyone who has not one of those accolades to be successful?"
The daylong event focused on helping ex-offenders overcome hurdles to re-entering society after serving their sentences.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, who is among the federal prosecutors on a national task force addressing the issue, said too many federal and state inmates leave prison addicted to drugs, and with inadequate education, anger management issues, and few prospects for work or decent housing.
"Today's Bureau of Prisons realizes re-entry begins the day the inmate enters and not the day he or she leaves," Fishman said.
Fishman, who is leading an investigation into political payback allegations involving Gov. Chris Christie's aides, left the event before Christie arrived, avoiding what could have been an awkward moment. Fishman is looking into possible criminal wrongdoing in a plot to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee by creating massive traffic jams in his town. He refused to comment on the investigation.
Like Fishman, Christie has long advocated for alternatives to prison for nonviolent offenders. The governor spearheaded a program that requires treatment rather than prison for first-time, nonviolent drug offenders. He also supports changes to the bail system that would enable nonviolent suspects to be released even if they can't make bail, rather than languish in jail for months on suspicion of a minor infraction.
Fostering successful re-entry is both humane and cost-effective, said former Gov. Jim McGreevey, the conference organizer, who oversees job training, housing and counseling in Jersey City for inmates who are released from the Hudson County jail.
McGreevey, a Democrat who resigned in 2004, and Christie, a Republican, agreed that jobs and drug treatment are keys to reducing recidivism and cutting incarceration costs.
Christie said it costs nearly $40,000 to incarcerate an inmate in state prison for a year, but about half that amount for inpatient drug addiction for a year.
The possible 2016 presidential candidate said it would be inconsistent to be pro-life, as he is, and be unwilling to give people opportunities to change their lives.
"No life is disposable," Christie said.