Panel focuses on halfway house issues: effectiveness, size, type of residents

NEW BRUNSWICK – Are halfway houses effective and, if so, what is the best blueprint for the nation to adopt

NEW BRUNSWICK – Are halfway houses effective and, if so, what is the best blueprint for the nation to adopt to curb recidivism?

Those were among the broad range of questions presented at a roundtable discussion in New Brunswick Friday.

Rutgers University’s Edward Bloustein School of Planning and Public Police hosted a meeting on halfway houses as a re-entry program. The roundtable’s goal was to develop a national blueprint for halfway house reform, said Nancy Wolff, a professor and director at the university’s Center for Mental Health Services and Criminal Justice Research.

“We are trying to use this situation as a launching pad to be able to take this to a more productive conversation,” she said. “We really need to talk about how to get from here to there.”

Wolff was quick to point out to roundtable members, which included individuals in academia and from correctional institutions from New Jersey and other states, that the discussion is not about the recent woes of the state’s halfway house program.

“The focus is really to try to take this to a national level and provide a … national blueprint for halfway house reform,” she said, adding the group would not be discussing recent controversies surrounding New Jersey’s Residential Community Release Program.

Senate and Assembly lawmakers held hearings last month to examine the state’s halfway house programs following the release of two reports.

The first was from the state comptroller that found a lack of oversight by the Department of Corrections in the state’s program and the second was a scathing series in The New York Times, which detailed some the of the lax security and regulations surrounding the facilities, as well as the high number of escapees over the years.

Despite the conversation being geared toward a larger discussion, lawmakers directly involved with last month’s Senate and Assembly hearings were in attendance during the roundtable, including Sen. Barbara Buono, (D-18), Metuchen, and Assemblyman Charles Mainor, (D-31), Jersey City.

“We have to examine the effectiveness of re-entry programs,” said Buono, adding New Jersey has yet to “complete a report measuring the success of our programs.”

Roundtable members discussed questions ranging from what should halfway houses be named, what is their function, who should go there and how large should they be?

The group largely agreed that halfway houses are basically about good corrections, saying it makes correctional officers and society safer by reforming offenders, while giving offenders a better chance at succeeding on the outside.

The roundtable was the first of several discussions planned in the coming months, including others in September and November. Panel focuses on halfway house issues: effectiveness, size, type of residents