Following reports that more than 5,000 inmates at Jersey halfway houses have escaped over the past 7 years, and there have been numerous incidents involving drugs, sexual assaults and gang attacks, the Head of the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee has announced hearings will be held to determine how this could have happened.

Assemblyman Charles Mainor says he had no knowledge of the problems that have been reported, so this whole thing is a bit of a shock to him.

Mainor said, "We're hoping to remedy the situation. Apparently, there seems to be an issue and a problem, so as Chair of Law and Public Safety, I'm hoping to put together a hearing and we can address the concerns...When I heard what was going on I was appalled - I was very surprised to see that someone had that much liberty to just walk right out."


He says, "It's not known to many of us. This is something that we don't hear of, especially the amount of people that are considered escapees…One person to escape is too many, and we must look at the people we're allowing to go into the halfway house - it's a concern…these are people that are escaping and committing more crimes. There's an issue and we have to really look at this seriously because there's a serious problem."

Some inmates who have "escaped" from halfway houses, by walking out back, side or emergency doors, have committed murders, assaults and a variety of other crimes.

So Mainor points out, "Apparently something isn't being done correctly because public safety is at risk here. So many escapees and no one knows what's going on…We have to look at everything."

While those in favor of halfway houses have pointed out they're cheaper than normal prisons, Mainor stresses an important point;  "We can't look at money when someone's life is at risk. Is there something else we can look at? Absolutely, I think there can be another efficient way to maintain these halfway houses, but I think it may take a collaboration of many others to get involved…We're putting together a list, because we want all stake-holders to be a part of this discussion - and as far as when - we're looking at before September, but if not it will be the very beginning of September."

Late yesterday, Governor Christie released a statement saying, "While many of the disturbing accounts reported 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. This administration takes its responsibility to properly administer this program very seriously which is why we have increased monitoring of halfway houses with enhanced site visits, fines for noncompliance and a new inspection monitoring system that has led to a dramatic decrease in the number of walkaways under this administration."

He also said, "New Jersey has been on the cutting edge of pursuing policies that both ensure our most violent offenders stay off the streets, such as closing the early release loophole, and support a more rehabilitative approach focused on nonviolent offenders. We need to constantly ensure these policies are being responsibly and safely implemented, which is why 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."