Halfway house security draws attention at hearing

TRENTON – The chairman and CEO of a company that manages some of the state’s halfway houses that have been at the center of a blistering series done by The New York Times appeared today before Senate lawmakers.

John Clancy, of the subcontractor Community Education Center, boasted of the state’s halfway house programs’ success. Clancy testified before the committee along with several other heads of companies charged with managing the halfway house facilities.

“… I pledge my commitment to work with you to implement any improvements that may come as a result of your hearing,” Clancy said.

Senate lawmakers asked Clancy and others pointed questions about the level of security within the state’s halfway houses. Legislators inquired why armed guards are not stationed at any of the halfway houses.

Earlier during the hearing, Sen. Paul Sarlo, (D-36), Wood-Ridge, pointed out that at a halfway house that houses up to 200 inmates, for example, there is not a single armed guard stationed at the facility.

Lawmakers were told that the halfway houses default to the nearest police department or correctional facility’s guards whenever law enforcement intervention is needed.

Before hearing from Clancy and other contractors, state lawmakers took testimony from New Jersey State Comptroller Matthew Boxer, who provided details of a 2011 audit into the state’s halfway house programs.

Boxer told lawmakers the agency began auditing the program after receiving a tip of shortcomings in the program, adding he could not recall what the tip was exactly or whether it was anonymous.

Senate lawmakers who spoke during Boxer’s testimony praised re-entry, saying, “We all support it,” said Sarlo, but questioning whether lawmakers need to tighten up legislation in order to ensure everyone’s best needs are being met.

“If we’re going to shift some of these functions to the private sector where there’s a tension between public goals and needs of shareholders, I think there needs to be greater oversight, control and monitoring of what’s going on,” said Sen. Robert Gordon, (D-38), chairman of the Legislative Oversight Committee.

Other lawmakers agreed, saying “they have a right to make money in the private sector” and the state’s halfway house programs can also save the state money, Sarlo said.

“… I think we’re just trying to protect ourselves to make sure this program will continue,” he added.

The Senate hearing was called in response to the comptroller’s report and a scathing series in The New York Times last month, which detailed some the of the lax security and regulations surrounding the facilities, as well as the high number of escapees over the years.

Gary Lanigan, commissioner of the state’s Department of Corrections, specifically addressed the issue of “escapes” during today’s hearing.

 “I believe you can appreciate the difference between an escape from a secure facility and a walk away from a halfway house,” said Lanigan, adding there have been about 2,400 “walkaways” reported at facilities – a figure significantly lower than the one reported by The Times investigation.

An Assembly committee is scheduled to hold a similar hearing into halfway houses next week.

Earlier story:

Comptroller says Corrections taking action on halfway house problems



Halfway house security draws attention at hearing