TRENTON – The head of the Assembly committee examining halfway house problems vowed today that legislation would be produced to address some of the issues brought forth.
Charles Mainor, head of the Law and Public Safety Committee, said that paramount among his concerns would be legislation to ensure that pre-adjudicated defendants are not placed in halfway houses where they can mix with low-level offenders.
People whose level of potential violence has not been measured, people who may represent a great deal of risk, should not be housed with low-level offenders or those one step removed from rejoining society, he explained.
A daylong hearing into halfway house abuses ended with representatives of the Police Benevolent Association testifying to what they believe are serious, long-term problems in the halfway house system, and their remarks left committee members concerned.
“You’ve shed light on issues we never even thought of,’’ Mainor, (D-31), Jersey City, told the PBA officials. “Legislation will be brought out of this.’’ He told them the lawmakers have to make sure the problems don’t happen again.
Among the many recommendations PBA witnesses made were requiring that only low-risk offenders who have no gang connections be allowed in halfway houses; requiring that the Department of Corrections have one single standard to follow as opposed to allowing counties to do what they choose; requiring that inmates not be allowed to leave for medical or other reasons without being escorted by law officers; and forbidding the mixing of the pre-adjudicated defendants with the low-risk inmates.
Joe Amato and Rich Brown of the PBA told the committee that at one point in Delaney Hall in Essex County, for example, of 798 county inmates, only 36 had been sentenced, so the potential threat level of many of those other 700-plus inmates either was unknown or unacceptably high.
After hearing of the problems in Essex County, including PBA claims of inappropriate placements, committee member Erik Peterson, (R-23), Clinton was not pleased.
“I’m from Hunterdon, we don’t do things like that,” he said, prompting laughter throughout the room. “We wouldn’t take a prison population and then not have enough beds. That’s not the purpose of a jail.’’
“They lack oversight,’’ Brown told the committee about the halfway houses. “They are breeding grounds for drugs, for violence.”
Mainor said legislation would be crafted to put in place consistent regulations that are followed as one way to make sure halfway houses stop housing the wrong type of offender and stop being breeding grounds.