By SAM DOLNICK
Published: June 18, 2012
Gov. Chris Christie ordered new inspections on Monday of New Jersey’s large, privately run halfway houses, saying his administration would ensure that the system operated “effectively and safely.”
Unlocked: At a Halfway House, Bedlam Reigns(June 18, 2012)
As Escapees Stream Out, a Penal Business Thrives(June 17, 2012)
Mr. Christie issued a statement in response to articles published this week in The New York Times that examined the state’s troubled halfway-house system, which has beds for roughly 3,500 parolees and state inmates finishing their sentences.
The system has existed since the 1990s, and state regulation has long been lax — The Times found that the halfway houses, many of which are as large as prisons, have been plagued by violence, drugs, gangs and escapes.
Mr. Christie, a Republican, has deep ties to the company that dominates the halfway-house industry in New Jersey and across the country, Community Education Centers. His close friend and political adviser William J. Palatucci is a senior executive of the company, and Mr. Christie has often visited and praised its facilities.
“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,” Mr. Christie said in the statement.
“While many of the disturbing accounts reported in today’s New York Times documenting lax oversight and accountability in some of New Jersey’s halfway houses took place prior to this administration, we have an obligation to ensure the community placements program is effectively and safely operating today,” he said.
Democrats in the State Legislature issued statements on Monday condemning the administration’s oversight and said they would hold hearings on the system.
Before the articles were published, the Christie administration had responded to The Times’s questions about the system by saying it would increase monitoring. On Monday, Mr. Christie said such measures had already led to “a dramatic decrease in the number of walkaways under this administration,” referring to escapes from halfway houses.
At least 181 inmates and parolees escaped halfway-house custody in the first five months of 2012 — a 35 percent decline when compared with a similar period in 2009, before Mr. Christie took office. Roughly 5,100 people have escaped since 2005, The Times found.
State and county agencies spend roughly $105 million a year on halfway houses in New Jersey, which are intended to offer drug treatment, job training and other services to help inmates’ transition into society. Community Education received about $71 million in the last fiscal year.
Community Education posted a statement on its Web site defending its programs. It said the articles in The Times were “an error-filled and gross exaggeration.”
Assemblyman Charles Mainor, a Democrat who is chairman of the Law and Public Safety Committee, said he would scrutinize state oversight, vowing to “to take whatever legislative action is necessary to remedy these problems.”