As reported by nj.com, New Jersey pumps nearly $65 million a year into a network of privately run halfway houses, but the system is rife with problems, according to a state comptroller report released yesterday. Even when contracts are violated, the state has failed to crack down on security lapses, the report said. Worst of all, it’s unclear whether the programs are actually achieving their chief goal: reducing the number of inmates committing new crimes by preparing them for life outside prison.
Comptroller Matthew Boxer said the state “cannot simply cut these halfway houses a check and hope for the best.” “As a state we have done a poor job of monitoring the program and have made no real attempt to find out what taxpayers are getting for their money,” he said.
The Department of Corrections acknowledged oversight needs to be improved, but said many problems identified in the report have been addressed in new contracts signed last year. However, Corrections spokeswoman Deidre Fedkenheuer would not say whether halfway houses have successfully reduced recidivism.
Corrections is responsible for overseeing the state’s contracts with eight nonprofits that run 23 halfway houses housing an average of 2,720 residents each day. Low-security inmates can be sent to halfway houses when they are within two years of parole eligibility, giving them access to substance abuse treatment and work release programs. But the comptroller’s report said halfway houses, which sometimes lack perimeter fences, suffer from safety problems. Residents were able to simply walk out the door, and some put dummies in their beds as decoys. Last year, 298 residents walked away from halfway houses and 13 remain missing, the state said.
Problems extended to the contracts themselves as well. Miscalculations by nonprofits led to six years of overbilling that totaled $600,000, the report said. Fedkenheuer said the Department has fixed the errors in the new contracts and is examining whether it can recoup the extra money already paid.
New Jersey has increasingly turned to halfway houses to slow the revolving door of former inmates committing new crimes and returning to prison. Almost 60 percent are arrested again within three years of their release, according to state statistics.
Still, halfway houses have been controversial, particularly among prison officer unions who say rehabilitation programs should be provided in more secure state prisons. Boxer questioned whether halfway houses were worth the money, saying Corrections cannot show they cut the recidivism rate.