By Desirée Taylor
Fines totaling $45,000 have been issued against New Jersey halfway houses for failing to report escapes in a timely manner. Community Education Centers (CEC) is among the companies penalized. CEC Senior Vice President Bob Mackey acknowledged the company had three offenses in recent months and as a result must pay a fine of $15,000. He says out of 600 inmates, there are typically 20 escapes per year. But Mackey claims most involve inmates who are participating in a work release program who are permitted to leave the facility during the day.
This isn’t the first time the Christie administration has imposed fines against halfway houses. CEC had to pay a $10,000 fine several months ago. Critics consider this penalty too lenient.
“I think it’s a slap on the wrist,” said Democratic State Sen. Bob Gordon. “But I think these fines are a step in the right direction.”
Gordon is among a host of lawmakers calling for changes at these facilities that house thousands of inmates. Gordon and his colleagues in the Assembly held hearings last month after a series of reports in The New York Times revealed problems with gangs, drugs and escapes at the state’s halfway houses. But Mackey, of CEC, says the reports were inaccurate. And he claims the state’s halfway houses have helped reduce the recidivism rate.
Gov. Chris Christie has taken steps to address problems at halfway houses. He called for increased inspections, but he vetoed a measure that would have required special audits of halfway house contracts.