Claim That Halfway House Inmates Ask to Return to Prison Are ‘Ludicrous’: Official

A company that runs many halfway houses in New Jersey where reports of abuse are rampant told WNYC that claims some inmates request to return to prison because they fear for their safety in the privately run facilities is “ludicrous.”

Inmates who are “completely unmotivated” and prefer “laying up in a prison cell” request to go back to prison because the halfway house offers a far more structured program, according to Dr. Robert Mackey, senior vice president for clinical services and research at halfway house company Community Education Centers.

“For many of them that are completely unmotivated to make the changes necessary in their life, they do in fact request to go back to prison,” he told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show on Wednesday. “To say that they go back to prison because they feel safer in prison is ludicrous.”

A 10-month, three-part investigation by The New York Times found lax oversight, escapes and widespread use of violence and drugs were common at many privately run facilities in New Jersey.

Governor Chris Christie demanded stepped-up inspections of the state's halfway houses following the report.

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 report 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.

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.