Chris Christie’s Ties To the For-Profit Halfway House Industry
Once again, the name of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is being batted around, whether as keynote speaker for the GOP convention or potential running mate to Mitt Romney. While many find much to dislike in Christie’s combative persona and bombastic rhetoric, his popularity in New Jersey is at an all-time high, largely due to male voters. Critics can say what they want about his faults, but Christie’s political star seems to keep on shining.
If Christie seems too good to be true, or not exactly what he seems to be, a closer look at his dealings as governor in New Jersey suggests why. An extensive New York Times investigation details Christie’s connections to a company, Community Education Centers, that holds extensive contracts to run a system of halfway houses in New Jersey.
Christie’s Ties To Private Halfway House Company Run Deep
Out of a total of about $105 million allocated to halfway houses, Community Education Centers receives about $71 million. The company’s senior vice president, William J. Palatucci, is a close friend of Christie — he spoke to the press about the governor’s health after Christie made an emergency visit to a central New Jersey hospital last summer — and his political advisor and former law partner. Christie was a lobbyist for the company in 2000 and 2001; in 2010, when Christie was elected governor, the son-in-law of Community Education’s chief executive was hired as an assistant in the governor’s office.
The West Caldwell-located Community Education Centers company makes plenty of glowing claims for its halfway houses as an “innovative example of privatization” that provides relief for overcrowded prisons and at a cheaper price. The corrections, parole and other government agencies in New Jersey pay about $60 to $75 per inmate to operators of halfway houses, vs. the $125 to $150 a day it costs the state to house someone in prison.
About 40 percent of New Jersey’s prison population — some 10,000 prison inmates and parolees a year — now pass through the state’s privately run halfway houses and many through those run by Community Education Centers.
Halfway Houses Poorly Run: Escapees, Drug Use, Rape
But with staff who receive only eight days of training (compared to 15 weeks for NJ correction officers), and with an alarmingly low ratio of staff to inmates (1 worker to 100 inmates in some cases, according to a 10-month New York Times investigation), “bedlam” is not an inaccurate word to describe conditions in at least some of the centers.
The New York Times also found high rates of escapees who sometimes have then committed violent crimes including murder; sexual assault by staff and by inmate; high rates of drug use; and numerous other violations. The halfway houses are poorly regulated and provide what seem to be only half-hearted programs, if that, in drug treatment, job counseling and other rehabilitation services needed by inmates to transition to life back in society.
73 percent of the inmates at the Albert M. “Bo” Robinson Assessment and Treatment Center in Trenton, New Jersey’s state capital, tested positive for drugs, despite the millions that government agencies pay for drug counseling.
The Bo Robinson facility has 900 beds and is described as “at the vanguard of a national movement to privatize correctional facilities.” Politicians tout the lower costs and the jobs halfway houses create for communities ; the New York Times report rather suggests that what is going on is that undertrained and under-supported staff oversee (to the extent they can) alarmingly high numbers of inmates, who are in need of far better services and better surveillance.
Christie: We Should “Celebrate” Halfway Houses
Yet Christie says that places such as a 1,200-bed Community Education facility in Newark are to be “celebrated.” If he is chosen to give the keynote at the GOP convention, it won’t be a surprise if he sings the praises of privatization — prisons, schools, and who knows what else — while back home in Jersey not far from his office in the Trenton, yet another inmate may be breaking out of one of those state-funded, privately own halfway houses, operated by his cronies.
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Photo by Bob Jagendorf