NJ’s Halfway Houses Under Scrutiny During Hearing [AUDIO]
New Jersey lawmakers heard conflicting reports of life at the state's privately run halfway houses during a Thursday hearing in Trenton.
It was held in response to a New York Times investigation that reported drug abuse, violence, escapes and lack of oversight at the facilities.
"We also looked at monitoring and found it to be deficient. They were conducting only a small amount of the required site visits and none of the site visits were unannounced as required by Department of Corrections policy" said State Comptroller Matt Boxer.
"We also found the disciplinary process for halfway house residents accused of misconduct to be flawed. We identified charges dismissed by hearing officers by a lack of hearing information by halfway house providers or by lack of reports being properly completed, resulting in lack of security at these facilities" Boxer added.
He noted the Department of Corrections did file a corrective action plan.
"We will be following up with them."
John Clancy, CEO of Community Education Centers, the largest provider, said he refutes many of the problems reported at the halfway houses and believes all offenders should pass through them prior to leaving prison.
"I think its a public safety risk to let people out of the system who have not been canceled, have not been educated, have not dealt with their addiction."
But the chair of the state Police Benovolent Association's committee on corrections said halfway houses have gotten worse.
"They've become like prisons without rules" he told the Senate panel.
State Corrections Commissioner Gary Lanigan defended the work of the halfway houses, saying they do a good job of helping offenders return to the community. He said some of the reports were overblown.
Over the past 6 1/2 years, 2,400 people have been reported as walking away from the facilities. But Lanigan said that figure included residents returning from their jobs and being delayed by a late bus. He said nearly three in 10 return within 24 hours and more than half within a week. In addition, he said, the number of walkaways has dropped since 2010.
Lanigan said his department has implemented 32 of the 35 recommendations laid out in a state comptroller's report last year dealing with contracts with halfway houses.
One democratic lawmaker brought up the idea of training employees like corrections officers.
"Why aren't we training them to be like corrections officers, wouldn't that make more sense?" asked Senator Bob Gordon.
Senator Barbara Buono was concerned that residents were being taken advantage of, both those in the facilities as well as taxpayers.
"I just want to make sure that these people are being treated and taken care of in the proper way and getting the help they need because isn't that why they are there?" she asked the panel. "I also want to make sure that we are not wasting money here and that taxpayers aren't left holding the bill."
An Assembly panel has planned a similar hearing next week.