As reported by nj.com, the State Assembly approved a bill that calls for the creation of an independent task force to investigate New Jersey’s halfway houses-privately operated facilities used to supplement the State’s prison system. The measure (A3503), sponsored by eight Democrats and one Republican, passed in a 52-23 vote. It has not been introduced in the Senate.
“These privately run halfway houses were supposed to be a more economical approach to housing inmates, but the lack of oversight at these facilities has put inmates, staff and the general public at risk,” Assemblyman Nelson Albano said in a statement. “Two people were murdered by inmates who escaped. This cannot happen again.”
Last year, the New York Times published a series of articles detailing escapes, violence and lax oversight at the halfway houses, also known as residential community release programs. Much of the Times reports focused on Community Education Centers, which operates Delaney Hall and until last November counted one of Governor Chris Christie’s closest friends and advisers, William Palatucci, as a senior vice president. Following the series, the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee held a hearing last summer concerning oversight and accountability of the State’s halfway houses. The task force bill was introduced because of that hearing, lawmakers said.
The bill approved by the Assembly would create a task force expected to examine how the halfway houses are run and how the State monitors the operations. The panel would be required to issue an interim report on its finding within a year of its first meeting, a final report a year after that.
The task force would be comprised of 17 members, including bipartisan representatives from the Senate and Assembly; the commissioners of corrections, labor, and human services; the executive director of the Juvenile Justice Commission; the chairman of the State Parole Board; the State Treasurer; a representative from the State Policemen’s Benevolent Association; and six members of the public.
Last week, corrections commissioner Gary Lanigan told members of the State Senate Budget Committee that his department had not yet compiled its own internal report on halfway houses-a requirement of the current fiscal year budget. Because of the tedious nature of compiling data, he said it was unclear when the study would be finished. Lanigan, though, did tell lawmakers he had no major concerns about how halfway houses are run and doesn’t believe any of those inspected by his staff should be shut down.