In June, the New York Times ran a series of articles describing the failures of New Jersey’s privately contracted halfway houses. The report blamed a lack of oversight for transgressions ranging from drug abuse to sexual assault to widespread escapes.
Propelled by this information, New Jersey lawmakers passed legislation calling for increased monitoring of its contracts with halfway house providers.
“We want to make certain that the halfway houses are doing what they set out to do,” said Sen. Linda Greenstein, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “And right now there is really not a good review process to make sure that is happening.”
Gov. Chris Christie seems to agree, but only to a certain extent. He conditionally vetoed the bill Thursday saying he wants only new contracts reviewed by the state’s auditor, not the current ones.
Greenstein, D-Mercer/Middlesex, says there’s a logical flaw here.
“Obviously that would exempt some of the groups that have been — at least in the New York Times expose — been exposed for not really doing a good job,” she said.
Greenstein says Christie’s friendship with the senior vice president of the state’s largest halfway house provider, Community Education Centers, causes concern.
It “seems that he doesn’t want to shine the light on some halfway houses,” said Greenstein. “That’s certainly at least an impression that one is left with here.”
The Christie administration says further review is unnecessary because they’ve already vetted the old contracts.
The oversight bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Atlantic, plans to meet with the Christie administration seeking a compromise.
“I’ve been pushing this for almost a decade, and this is the first time it’s actually made it to the governor’s desk,” Van Drew said. “So I personally am going to see this a positive sign and I’m going to so my very best to move forward and work with the governor.”
According to the New York Times reports, more than 5,000 inmates have escaped from the state’s privately run halfway houses since 2005.