Lawmakers Hear Details About NJ Prison System

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

New Jersey’s prison system used to cost more than $1 billion a year. Today it costs less than $1 billion. Corrections Commissioner Gary Lanigan told the Assembly Budget Committee crime is down and the prison population is down 20 percent since the start of the Christie administration.

The recidivism rate has declined from 48 percent in the year 2000, he said, to 31 percent today.

He described various ways the Corrections Department tries to prepare inmates for their return to the community.

“But beyond that, I think the Legislature and the governor have done a terrific job in things such as Ban the Box, things such as the drug courts. Particularly the drug courts alone have diverted thousands of inmates,” he said.

Ban the Box was the law that barred asking about a criminal record on a job application.

Lanigan was asked about recent reports of sexual assault by guards at Edna Mahan Correctional Center, the women’s prison in Clinton Township.

He acknowledged five correction officers and a civilian have been accused and they’ve all been fired.

“As unfortunate as that is, as despicable as it may be, we want to be cautious not paint with too broad a brush. We have some 6,000 uniformed members of our department, which leaves 5,994 that are trying to do a good job every day and get home to their families,” he said.

Earlier, the committee heard from Community Affairs Commissioner Chuck Richman.

He’s been at the department since 1986 and became commissioner two years ago. His department handles a lot of housing and social safety net programs. A third of its budget comes from federal funds, which stand to be cut under President Trump’s proposed budget.

“All of these things are on the proverbial chopping block from the federal government, from the president’s budget,” said Assemblyman Troy Singleton.

“I’ve seen a number of these programs listed repeatedly in presidents’ budgets to be ended over my career. Some of the ones you just mentioned were on the chopping block in the ’80s. It’s too early to spend a great deal of time trying to determine what’s going to happen at the end of this process,” Richman said.

The department is overseeing the state takeover of Atlantic City. Richman described how the state has cut municipal costs there.

“Some of the reductions in the area of police and fire, there was a reduction in salaries,” he said.

There were no big headlines at today’s budget hearing — just legislators and cabinet officers doing their handiwork.