Governor Chris Christie demanded stepped-up inspections of the state's halfway houses following a report that found lax oversight, escapes and widespread use of violence and drugs were common at many privately run facilities in New Jersey.
A 10-month, three-part investigation by The New York Times found about 40 percent of the state’s prison inmate and parole population – roughly 10,000 – go through the halfway house system. Since 2005, there are been 5,100 inmates who have escaped from halfway houses – and at least 1,300 of those since Christie has been in office, the paper reported.
Some inmates left through the back, side or emergency doors of halfway houses, or through smoking areas, state records show. Others placed dummies in their beds as decoys, or fled while being returned to prison for violating halfway houses’ rules. Many had permission to go on work-release programs but then did not return. While these halfway houses often resemble traditional correctional institutions, they have much less security.
There are no correction officers, and workers are not allowed to restrain inmates who try to leave or to locate those who do not come back from work release, the most common form of escape. The halfway houses’ only recourse is to alert the authorities.
Christie in a statement that the accounts were "disturbing" and defended the state's record as being "on the cutting edge" of pursing policies that keep violence offenders away from the public.
"I am calling on the Department of Corrections Commissioner Gary Lanigan to immediately step up inspections of all halfway houses and report any violations and recommendations for changes to the deputy chief of staff for policy,” Christie said in a statement on Monday.
There are 85 inmates who are currently on the lam, the paper reported:
“The system is a mess,” said Thaddeus B. Caldwell, who spent four years tracking down halfway house escapees in New Jersey as a senior corrections investigator.
“No matter how many escaped, no matter how many were caught, no matter how many committed heinous acts while they were on the run, they still kept releasing more guys into the halfway houses, and it kept happening over and over again.”
By contrast, the state’s prisons had three escapes in 2010 and none in the first nine months of 2011, the last period for which the state gave figures.
The Times also reported the main company in charge of the facilities has ties to Governor Chris Christie, and received $71 million from state and county agencies in fiscal year 2011. About $105 million was spent in total.
Community Education Centers, Inc, a group with ties to Christie, blasted the Times' report, saying it was "error filled" and a "gross exaggeration" and that claims it had an unfair advantage in the field were "baseless."
"The Times has handpicked tragic yet rare, isolated, incidents to paint a misleading and inaccurate image of New Jersey's reentry system," the CEC said in a statement.
Proponents have held up the facilities as a way in which privatization can help re-invent and better the re-entry process, claiming such programs have improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of inmates nationwide.
With the Associated Press