Democrats in New Jersey’s Legislature called for stricter oversight of the state’s troubled system of halfway houses on Thursday, saying new disclosure requirements would lead to “better safety for our communities and the halfway house residents.”
The plan came in response to articles published this week in The New York Times that examined the privately run system, which has beds for roughly 3,500 state inmates and parolees. The articles detailed unchecked violence, gang activity, drug use and hundreds of escapes from the facilities every year.
Democratic lawmakers called for the Corrections Department to issue quarterly reports describing conditions inside the halfway houses, including the number of inmates, the number of escapes, incidences of violence and disciplinary measures taken.
In addition, every halfway-house operator that contracts with the Corrections Department would have to undergo a financial audit, said Senator Paul A. Sarlo, chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee.
The language was included in the latest version of the Democratic budget proposal. A final vote on the budget is expected Monday.
Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, has close ties to the company that dominates the network of halfway houses, Community Education Centers, as do some prominent Democrats. Mr. Christie’s 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.
On Monday, Mr. Christie ordered new inspections of halfway houses. Democrats said more accountability was needed.
“Clearly, there’s reason to be concerned about the lack of transparency from the administration,” said Assemblyman Charles Mainor, a Democrat who is chairman of the Law and Public Safety Committee. “We’re taking a vital step toward improved disclosure and, hopefully, better safety for our communities and the halfway-house residents and employees.”
Since the 1990s, New Jersey has sent some state prison inmates finishing sentences to privately run halfway houses, many of which have hundreds of beds. State and county agencies now spend roughly $105 million a year on such placements. Community Education received about $71 million of that in the last fiscal year, according to company records.