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NJ Lawmakers Examine Oversight of Halfway Houses

Reports of violence, drug use and hundreds of escapes raises questions about state oversight

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections defended the state’s system of halfway houses that has come under fire recently for reported rampant violence, drug use and escapes.

Commissioner Gary Lanigan told a state Senate committee Thursday the halfway houses are not violent places, and that they are valuable programs that handle more than 6,000 inmates coming out of prison each year.

“Have horrific acts taken place? Yes. Is the system out of control? Absolutely not,” said Gary Lanigan, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

The incidence of violence is commensurate with the difficult population that is served by the halfway houses and needs to transition from a secure facility to the community, Lanigan said.

The Legislative Oversight panel hearings on Thursday focused on whether there is adequate regulation of the private operation of the halfway houses.

The probe was prompted by a 10-month investigative report in the New York Times.

Several private contractors testified, including William Clancy, president of Community Education Centers, which serves about half of the state’s halfway house population.

Clancy told legislators the report in the Times was false and blew a few incidents out of proportion.

Following Clancy, was Derrick Watkins, who was fired by Community Education Centers and criticized the facility in an interview with the Times.

Watkins says counselors at the halfway houses are not trained properly to handle difficult residents.

“Treatment is better than incarceration. But treatment that is controlled is better than treatment that is not controlled,” Watkins said.

He also said workers are not paid enough.

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