Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Correctional halfway houses in New Jersey are under scrutiny with due cause

Among state correctional halfway houses reports of violence, drug use and escapes are rampant. While the idea of a transitional facility helping inmates to adjust to society may be sound, there appear to be horrible political barriers that impede proper oversight to these systems. In an undoubtedly troubled economy, poorly utilized resources are especially intolerable.

When stories surface such as the one this past summer, where inmate David Goodell from Logan Hall escaped and killed Vivianna Tulli due to poor security and oversight, it opens a proverbial can of worms that is hard to ignore.

 This is only one of approximately 5200 escapes since 2005. During hurricane Sandy there were reports of 15 escapes at once in one facility among others. http://www.northjersey.com/news/politics/nj_politics/halfway_houses.html

At Bo Robinson correctional facility in Trenton, a janitor sexually assaulted a female inmate for weeks before she was transferred to another facility in 2009. As the story came out so did many other sad truths about the facility. Gangs and violence forced some employees to quit. The number that hits home for NCADD-NJ and our efforts is that when this correctional halfway house was investigated, 73% of the inmates tested positive for drugs. This is consistent with the high number of substance abuse found among prisons. If quality substance abuse and mental health services were actually being provided in a clinically sound way, the number of inmates would be significantly reduced in both the prisons and step down halfway houses. This alone would save the state money. Instead, operators continue to build additions to accept more prisoners while lining their own pockets, as they are paid by the inmate.

One can’t help but wonder if these horrifying truths are in large part due to political contracts and egregious mismanagement of funds. A particular company being looked at right now is The Kintock Group, A “non- profit” organization that is the second largest operator of correctional halfway house facilities in NJ. The Kintock Group is given government contracts to operate several of the NJ correctional halfway house facilities each year. When the founder has been paid over $7 million dollars in the past decade, at what point is an organization considered for-profit? The organization has near $40 million in revenue. It seems they simply call themselves non-profit because they provide some “community services”. There is little accountability and clarity as to where these contract dollars are going. Also lacking is oversight as to whether services that are claimed to be provided, such as:

  • Community Resource Centers
  • Employment education and placement
  • Substance abuse and mental health treatment
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Adult basic education and GED preparation
  • Life skills education
  • Community referrals
  • Housing placement

 are truly provided to inmates. Not to mention appropriate training and compensation for employees. The extent to which misappropriation of funds is occurring has yet to be determined due to the inability to investigate. Although Democrats in Trenton are not afraid to make waves with the entire issue, it may not be enough to demand that these dysfunctional systemic issues are properly addressed. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/30/nyregion/operator-of-new-jersey-halfway-houses-paid-millions-to-founder.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121230&_r=0