NJ Senate Panel To Hold Hearing On Halfway Houses [AUDIO]
A blistering report issued by the State Comptroller detailed violence and gangs at the state's halfway houses.
The report also documented lax oversight that led to escapes. The Comptroller's report was followed up recently by a series of scathing articles in the New York Times. Two weeks from today, the State Senate Legislative Oversight Committee will convene a hearing to explore the issue.
Senator Bob Gordon chairs the oversight panel.
He says, "Violent criminals are being sent to these places where there really is not the kind of security that would be in place in a prison. Not surprisingly, 5,000 people have walked away or escaped. Some of those people who have escaped. Some of those people who've escaped have committed violent crimes……Clearly there's something wrong and we need to find out what the problems are and we need to fix them."
Democratic lawmakers responded last month by passing a bill to require more oversight at halfway houses, but Governor Chris Christie vetoed portions of the legislation.
Using his line-item veto authority Christie eliminated a requirement that the Department of Corrections issue quarterly reports to legislative leaders and another mandate to keep the leaders in loop as to what's being done to prevent violence at halfway houses and what actions are being taken to prevent inmates being hurt.
"If you are state-funded, you are filing a report to the Department of Corrections monthly because that's what generates your payment," explains Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver. "It's not as if this data is not available and it's not as if it's a difficult thing to compile all of this information…..It's being done. Many organizations that have contracts with the state can prepare this electronically with the push of a button."
The Governor feels the reports are burdensome to compile and he believes the requirements could threaten security at halfway houses.
Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee chairman Charles Mainor, also a Democrat says, "It's astounding that the Governor would reject provisions that would have improved oversight in the state's halfway houses, in light of the widespread problems involving escapes, gang activity, drugs and sexual abuse that were recently reported. These measures were intended to preserve the safety of the inmates, staff and the community. I'm not sure how the Governor can defend putting them at risk."
Mainor is also planning to hold hearings on the issue.
Christie has taken some heat as a result of the New York Times series, primarily because his political advisor and close friend Bill Palatucci is a senior V.P. for the private company that runs the state's largest halfway houses.
Palatucci says the New York Times is simply trying, "to hurt New Jersey and hurt this Governor."