Proposals address halfway house problems

TRENTON – Lawmakers have introduced bills to address concerns raised this year concerning halfway houses.

One, A3505, would take away from the Department of Corrections the authority to award contracts to halfway houses and give that power to the Division of Purchase and Property in the Treasury Department.

The bill, whose sponsors include Assembly members Gilbert Wilson, D-5, Camden; Charles Mainor, D-31, Jersey City; and Joe Cryan, D-20, Union, would require that contracts stipulate that all halfway house staff are  to be qualified as well as licensed or certified. 

In addition, all halfway houses are to be accredited by the American Correctional Association or a nationally recognized accrediting body which uses certification criteria equal to or greater than the association.   

The bill further requires that contracts include provisions mandating that per diem rates charged to the department per inmate are to be clearly delineated and all per diem rate budgets are to be verified by an audit conducted on an annual basis by the division.

Another bill, A3504, would mandate that defendants charged with first-, second- or third-degree crimes could not be placed in halfway houses.

The bill seeks to address the problem of mingling serious, violent offenders with inmates who are preparing to rejoin society.

Sponsors include Wilson, Mainor, and Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-15, Trenton.

The bills deal with issues raised in committee hearings earlier this year, and which first came to light following a New York Times series that told of escapes, abuse, drug use, and gang activity at such facilities.

Mainor, who chairs the Law and Public Safety Committee that held the hearings, said the issues raised questions about the administration’s ability to oversee halfway houses.

Also earlier this year, State Comptroller Matt Boxer said that the law on contracts awarded to service providers for halfway houses could use more clarity.

Boxer’s office had produced a report last year which said the state Corrections Department had not been adequately overseeing the halfway house program. Ten halfway house providers were overpaid due to math errors, according to the report.