“The company that runs these halfway houses, Community Education Center, is for-profit, operated by a good friend of Christie, and in fact for a while he was a registered lobbyist for the company. The half way houses are apparently shot through with violence, drug usage, rape, and runways. Christie allies say it is just the liberal agenda of the Times, but it is surely more serious than that. If in fact, Christie has been negligent on this issue, it has enormous implications. Just remember how the Republicans used the Willie Horton parole from Governor Mike Dukakis’ prisons to hit him over the head for being soft on crime.” The Romance Is Over: Michael Riccards, Executive Director of NJ Hall Institute of Public Policy
In Part I there was an explanation of how Community Education Centers’ (CEC) recent contributions of $600,000 to many political campaigns have created significant conflicts of interest and how the sheer breadth of matters to investigate make it difficult for any one legislative committee to conduct an independent review. Individual legislative committees, however, can develop bills to address particular issues. Such is what just happened with amazing speed when over a few day a bill to require the State Auditor to review Department of Corrections’ halfway house contracts was quickly passed by committees of both houses and is now poised for floor votes.
Christie has, indeed, “been negligent on this issue.” When Chris Christie assumed the governorship in 2010 the State Commission on Investigations (SCI) had already issued a 2009 report highlighting gang presence in prisons (how, why, & what to do about it), and the State Comptroller was in the midst of preparing a report to be published in 2011 that “exposed crucial weaknesses in state oversight of halfway houses.” Christie’s own press spokesman Michael Drewniak, as a former Star Ledger Department of Corrections reporter, was already aware of the problems in 1997. He wrote an article about how CEC set up a separate “non-profit” agency to obtain Department of Corrections grants and funnel money to CEC. The Comptrollers’ report questions the legality of this arrangement. DOC over the years has authorized and “supervised” many CEC contracts. In effect, through State watchdog reports, interaction from DOC, Christie’s own spokesperson, and many press articles there was ample information available to Christie about the numerous, serious shortcomings of CEC.
What did Governor Christie then do? As the Star Ledger reported in 2010 he wanted to reduce the budgets and “consolidate the state’s watchdog agencies by placing the offices of the comptroller, inspector general, Medicaid inspector general and the State Commission of Investigation under one roof – Christie’s.” This from a governor who had fiercely prosecuted government-related crime and exposed a broad web of state-wide payola? Fortunately, Christie’s efforts at taking control of these agencies failed, and they remain now as they were.
In Part III there will be more information about the key role these agencies can provide in further investigative actions. In addition, more responsiveness is needed from the Attorney General’s office.
In the meanwhile on the list of both the Senate and Assembly for voting today is S927 which requires the State Auditor to review DOC privatization contracts. The review is supposed to determine any malfeasance on the part of DOC and whether the privatization cost is less than in-service operation would be. Although the State Auditor has audited different State prisons and DOC administration, this would represent the first time they have audited any halfway houses. As a result, in addition to the past efforts of the SCI and the Comptroller, we would now have the involvement of the State Auditor as a third watchdog. It will be interesting to see if any Republicans support the bill or any Democrats oppose it.