Saturday, June 23, 2012

Privatizing New Jersey’s Halfway Houses

The New York Times has published a series of articles by reporter Sam Dolnick entitled "Unlocked: Inside New Jersey’s Halfway Houses."  The series focuses on privatized halfway houses in New Jersey.

It should come as no surprise to readers of this blog that, according to the first article in the series, ("As Escapees Stream Out, a Penal Business Thrives"):  "At the heart of the system is a company [Community Education Centers] with deep connections to politicians of both parties, most notably Gov. Chris Christie."  The second article ("At a Halfway House, Bedlam Reigns") reports on the "drugs, gangs and sexual abuse" that are supposedly rife within the walls of these privately-run halfway houses.  (This, sadly, sounds like many prisons.  Do these abuses also commonly occur at old-fashioned, small-scale halway houses?  I do not know.)  The third article ("A Volatile Mix Fuels a Murder") focuses on the murder of a man who lived at one of these halfway houses.

Like any good New York Times series, "Unlocked" also includes a short video summary from the lead reporter, Sam Dolnick.   Unsurprisingly, this series has also resulted in some interesting Letters to the Editor.  The lead letter is from a former regional vice president for a company that operated halfway houses in the 1990s.  Accoring to this writer, "little has changed" from when his company ran things; during his tenure, due to "contractual agreements," the emphasis at these facilities was on "cost-cutting" not "concern for offenders and ultimate correctional outcome." 

The series has garnered some attention from important New Jersey pundits and politicians.  Today, Times op-ed columnist (and Nobel Prize-winning Princeton econ prof) Paul Krugman devotes his column to the series.  (Gail Collins, who I suspect lives in Washington, DC, also wrote a column about the series.)  Chris Christie also responded to the series by ordering new inspections of the halfway houses.   However, Democrats in the New Jersey legislature apparently were not satisfied by Christie's response, as they have requsted more oversight of the halfway houses.  One Democrat legislator from New Jersey has even called for legislative hearings into this issue.

As might be expected, a VP of Community Education Centers, in a soft-ball interview by a local public television station, says that the New York Times "got it wrong -- dead wrong."  According to this VP, the series is an "editorial" by the times and a political attack on Governor Christie.   (The VP also says that his company "welcomes" more oversight by the State of New Jersey.)  

All in all, fascinating reading!

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