In N.J., Christie Calls for Halfway House Reform

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June 18, 2012; Source: New York Times

In an in-depth report on conditions at Trenton, N.J.’s Albert M. “Bo” Robinson Assessment and Treatment Center, the New York Times has found stories from this halfway house about staff raping female inmates, nearly three-fourths of inmates testing positive for drugs, inmates asking to go back to prison (because they found it safer than the halfway house), staff not providing job training or other kinds of support because “they had neither the skills nor the time to do so,” staff falsifying inmate records, and gangs running much of the facility by threatening and shaking down other inmates. The gangs reportedly even controlled access to the inmates’ use of the facility’s pay phones.

The details of the Times story are horrific, sounding more like the story lines from HBO’s “Oz” (a fictional maximum security prison) rather than a facility for people transitioning out of prison.  If the Times reporting is correct, Bo could adopt the Oz slogan without hesitation: “It’s no place like home.” “Bo is like the projects,” one former inmate said. “I’m walking down the hallway from mess and I’m getting approached by everybody selling everything. ‘I’ve got batteries, T-shirts, weed, heroin, coke.’”{loadmodule mod_banners,Newswire Subscription Plea}

The entity that runs “Bo,” Community Education Centers takes strenuous issue with the Times charges, calling the reporting “riddled with errors.” While some commentary has argued that, as a for-profit, Community Education Centers is more interested in the bottom line than the conditions and futures of its halfway house residents, a CEC spokesperson referenced the firm’s “nonprofit arm…[that] has an unbroken 18-year contract history and growth in the New Jersey half-way house business spanning six governors preceding governor Christie—four of them Democrats. In fact, Community Education Centers has strong ties with Republicans in the administration of Gov. Chris Christie, but also with Democrats, even getting Vice President Joe Biden to meet with execs and to issue a press release praising the halfway house.

Since the New York Times article about Bo and other parts of its series on halfway houses, Gov. Christie has called for stepped up inspections and enforcement at the state’s halfway houses, sort of sidestepping charges that the state’s lax oversight allowed this to happen. If the Times reporting is accurate, Gov. Christie, the tough-guy governor known for accepting nothing less than top quality results, seems to have overlooked a chaotic dynamic in this essential component of the state’s justice system. To be fair, however, we wonder whether the Times might have filed similar reports had it gone digging in other states. According to its website, Community Educational Centers runs residential and non-residential facilities in 17 states and in Bermuda. What do you think the Times might have reported had it looked at halfway houses in your state?—Rick Cohen

  • Evelyn

    It’s intereting that Gov. Chistie is now calling for review and reform of these halfway houses. Saw reports on CNN and MSNBC that his political mentor was the primary owner of these facilities. Is the governor trying to clean up messes he may have chosen to overlook because of his friendship?!

  • Sandra Greer

    For-profit halfway houses, for-profit prisons, for-profit hospitals, for-profit schools and colleges, for-profit security at military bases abroad — and have I mentioned for-profit health insurance? We are all being ripped off by this bogus concept. Does anyone really believe in a level of service whose cost is inversely proportional to the amount of profit?

    Not that there isn’t a fair amount of graft and corruption in the public sector; but this is built into the systems. And remember, to control it, you need a whole lot of regulators and watchdogs, all the time. The same people who believe in for-profit everything are against regulation and the government expenditures it requires.

    They are also really reluctant to hear about, or take action against, criminal behavior of these pet enterprises. Bravo, New York Times, for taking the trouble to investigate Community Educational Centers, despite the unattractiveness of the clients.

  • Suyin Marti, CM for a Transitional Housing Prog. for Homeless Families

    As someone that is frequently in residential housing prog./ shelters and one that houses the individuals coming out of these places and reunites them with their families, I find that we all are overworked and underpaid but that’s not an excuse to allow that kind of behavior to go on. Unfortunately, it is my persoal opinion that in general halfway houses as a whole do more harm than help and they need to be reformed.

  • Allen Hunt

    I have spent the last decade of my life volunteering, working in the court system and at private recovery centers and I have seen what really works and what is simply fabrication faining success.

    This news about Bo should be no surprise to any of us. Realistically, the vast majority of recovery centers and halfway houses maintain metrics that are incredibly skewed at best. So called success rates are genuinely hard to articulate, since the average graduate of one of these programs, or a person released from incarceration, moves 3 to 5 times within the first year to two years. Places like Bo have to manufacture success rates to justify their funding requests. Who is substantiating their numbers? Or better yet, who is substantiating their numbers who doesn’t have a vested interest in those numbers looking good for the tax payers???

    The private facilities [those not taking tax payer $$$] that have a number of individually credentialed staff, as in, those not operating under the umbrella of supervisory care provider, are generally the most reliable. But, even these facilities in truth are able to legitimately claim about 30% success rate [success being defined as: five years of sober living with minimal slips, working a steady job and remaining socially active in their community].

    For the majority of the recovery community, it operates in a fantasy world of success that is only measured by the output of lives reduced to metrics, which are solely geared to maintain funding, generate joy-joy feelings in board rooms of artificial social responsibility, and fill line items on a municipal check list for re-election quips.

    In conclusion, it is the 12 step programs, like NA and AA, the grass roots community organizations and the faith community that are the best bet for reducing recidivism and relapse.