Lanigan seeks to reassure lawmakers about halfway houses

TRENTON – Despite the impression from published reports that New Jersey halfway houses can potentially be an unsafe environment for the prison inmates they house, the facilities as a whole are safe.

That’s the message the head of the Department of Corrections, Commissioner Gary Lanigan, brought to lawmakers Monday during a Senate Budget and Appropriations hearing on the Fiscal Year 2014 budget.

Lanigan was reacting to questions from Sen. Linda Greenstein, (D-14), Plainsboro, who wasted little time in asking the commissioner questions about the halfway house program that made headlines last year following a detailed report by The New York Times.

“We have very little violence in our halfway houses,” said Lanigan. “The violence that we measure is not anyplace near the anecdotal information that was talked about last spring.”

The commissioner noted he was only speaking about halfway houses under state control, however. A number of halfway houses in New Jersey are operated by private contractors.

Lanigan told lawmakers the contractors were fined roughly $95,000 last year for various infractions without detailing the reasons why they were fined.

On the issue of “walkaways,” a term used for inmates who fail to return to their halfway houses, Lanigan said state facilities documented between 75 and 100 escapes.

“To appreciate that, you have to understand the environment in a halfway house and the philosophy that we’re using for transitional inmates,” he said, explaining many of the inmates hold jobs or take classes outside of the facilities while serving in the halfway houses.

“They can choose not to return,” said Lanigan, adding 42 percent of runaways are located within 24 hours and that 60 percent are back under state care within a week.

  Lanigan seeks to reassure lawmakers about halfway houses