LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Hearings on Halfway Houses Will Examine Private System

New Jersey’s halfway houses have come under fire after a series in The New York Times discussing poor management and safety concerns. Legislators will be having hearings on the matter, which Sen. Robert Gordon (D-Bergen) will chair. He told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he wants to investigate how the privatized system compares to how halfway houses could run under the state.

Rather than just looking into halfway houses, Gordon said there is a bigger question about privatization. “We have been privatizing a number of services that have traditionally been offered by public agencies,” he said. “We have seen private sector organizations now being involved in corrections for about 10 years and there is a tension between the demands of shareholders and the need to generate profits and the public mission.”

Gordon said the hearings will help determine public safety, to see if some of the concerns are overblown as some halfway house leadership has alleged. One of the topics of the hearings will be reports of escapes, attacks and unsafe conditions in the facilities, he said.

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Gordon said he has very little interest in the politics associated with halfway houses. “I see that as an aversion from more important questions. Do we have adequate oversight over these organizations? The state comptroller issued a report last June which said we really don’t know what we’re getting for over $60 million in spending every year. We’re not monitoring these organizations, we don’t know if they’re really complying with our contracts,” he said. “I think those are more important questions for the taxpayers.”

The economic benefits of halfway houses have been touted, but Gordon said lawmakers must consider the additional costs such as transporting prisoners back and forth from prison to the facilities.

Reports have said Gov. Chris Christie will nominate Lee Solomon as a state Supreme Court justice. Sen. Nicholas Scutari has said there won’t be a hearing on a nominee until Christie puts up a Democrat. Gordon said he agrees that there is some concern about the balance of the court, but he also said his interaction with Solomon has been positive.

When asked if he would support Solomon as a Supreme Court justice, Gordon said, “I’m not on the committee, but I would say based on my experiences with him — speaking as a non-lawyer — he seems qualified for the job. But I think it’s important that we have a court that shows some political balance. So I’m going to defer to the chairman of the judiciary committee on this.”