$1.8 Million in Federal Funds Will Foster County Youth Programs

by Ahmad Graves-El

On February 2, Cumberland County Prosecutor, Jennifer Webb-McRae, announced that the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office (CCPO) will receive $1.8 million in federal funding, which will be used to help children in the community.

The announcement was made at the CCPO’s first virtual press conference, which took place on Zoom because of the ongoing public health emergency.

Webb-McRae was excited to share the positive news with all who were in attendance—which included local and state legislators—and gave full credit to all those who assisted her endeavor to reimagine public safety.

“This is truly a collective and collaborative effort that started with stakeholders coming together with a commitment to make sure the children of Cumberland County had their best first start,” Webb-McRae said.

The CCPO successfully applied for federal grants, which will be used to help local youth stay out of the prison system. The names of the four grants are:

• Preventing School Violence: BJA’s STOP School Violence program;

• Innovative Prosecution Solutions for Combatting Violent Crime;

• Comprehensive Anti-Gang Programs for Youth; and

• Strategies to Support Children Exposed to Violence.

The CCPO will receive $210,447 for the Preventing School Violence program; $135,000 to purchase an advanced Information Technology system for the combatting violent crime program initiative; $499,791 for the anti-gang program; and $1,015,160 to assist children who have witnessed violence.

“We know effective prevention and intervention is critical for positive youth outcomes,” said Webb-McRae.

The funds for the stopping school violence program will be spent on mapping technology, which will assist first responders to quickly and accurately “respond to safety and threat concerns including active shooter situations.” The monies will also be used for an anonymous school tip line, similar to the county’s 411 tip line.

The grant for the Innovative Prosecution Solutions for Combatting Violent Crime will help the prosecutor’s office “manage and track caseloads” and shorten “case processing times within the Juvenile Domestic Violence Unit.”

The funds for the Comprehensive Anti-gang Programs for Youth will be used to help “identify the youth most at-risk of becoming involved in gangs” and provide those youth and their families with holistic resources, life skills training, and more.

The grant for Strategies to Support Children Exposed to Violence will be used to help local officials respond to the trauma of “children who have been exposed to violence” including connecting them to youth mental health services.

“We know that if we implement strategies that address issues like childhood trauma, and mental health, we have an opportunity to disrupt the ways that these things manifest themselves [with] hurt people hurting other people through violence,” said Webb-McRae. “Or hurt people falling into cycles of addiction that go untreated and end up in the lap of the criminal justice system.”

Webb-McRae, who mentioned that she’s been accused of being more of a social worker than a prosecutor, which is just fine with her, said that receiving the grant monies will be a benefit to all Cumberland County residents.

“To reimagine public safety and stop paying the law enforcement premium for every social ill, we must work across disciplines and outside of our silos to create sustainable change,” Webb-McRae said. “And when we do that we all win.

“The taxpayer wins because prevention and intervention is far more cost effective than disruption and incarceration,” she continued. “And the added benefit is that we create healthier … and safer communities.”

State and local officials—on both sides of the aisle—who were on hand for the virtual press conference, praised Webb-McRae for her persistent efforts in helping the children of Cumberland County and pledged to put their full support behind her.

“What we’re trying to do” said Cumberland County Commissioner Director, Joe Derella, to the county’s top prosecutor, “is help you redirect available funds through grants and other sources so that we can do that outreach, that extra special thing that we can do to make where we live just a little bit better.”

“You’re hitting all the notes to try to make sure that one, if a kid goes down the wrong track, you get it back,” said New Jersey State Senate President, Democrat Steve Sweeney, “and two, maybe prevent it from going there … because our future is our youth.”

“Our communities are only going to be better when our young people are better and more understanding.”

Mike Testa, Republican, Vineland resident, and 1st Legislative District representative called the funding a “ray of sunshine” for Cumberland County residents.

“Today’s announcement of new federal grants are critical steps in the right direction to ensure the safety of our children and provide the building blocks for a better community,” Testa said.

Webb-McRae recognized Bridgeton Mayor, Albert Kelly, as being instrumental in helping the CCPO receive the grants.

“I’m happy to say that the City of Bridgeton is all in in terms of working with the Positive Youth Coalition and designing programs that will help be preventative …,” Kelly said.

Democratic Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro and 1st Legislative District representatives Antwan McClellan and Erik Simonsen, both Republicans, were also at the press conference to show their support.

Webb-McRae’s team, which included her newly appointed Chief of Staff and Executive Assistant Prosecutor with the CCPO, Kevin Guinan, Tracy Swan, MPA, MCJ with the Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs, and Matthew Rudd, Special Agent – Strategic Planning and Programs, were there to discuss the specific benefits of each grant.

For more information about the grant funding and its benefits or other CCPO programs, visit njccpo.org

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