Governor Christie on Friday curbed an effort by the Legislature to improve oversight of the state’s privately run halfway houses. However, evidence accumulates that the problems reported in the New York Times are not restricted to New Jersey. Community Education Centers (CEC) runs most of the facilities in our state and operates in about twelve other states. One of its sites is Cheyenne Mountain Re-Entry Center (CMRC) in Colorado Springs where press reports and a whistle-blower raise troubling questions.
What the whistle-blower is reporting – below the fold.
CMRC, a medium secure facility designed to reduce recidivism for Colorado Department of Corrections offenders, opened in 2005. Last week the Denver Westword headlined: “Private Prison Operator Community Education Centers’ Woes Have A Familiar Ring.” In the article it says “CEC senior vice president William Palatucci acknowledged that the Cheyenne Mountain facility had been through some growing pains.” In 2008 the Westword interviewed a number of officials, residents and graduates of CMRC. It published a lengthy article, Can A Troubled Colorado Prison Change The Way Inmates Think? which documented problems similar to those revealed in the NY Times article:
“Regular visits by DOC monitors have turned up a slew of management and operational blunders at the prison since it opened three years ago. Documents obtained by Westword show a history of staff shortages and high turnover, inadequate training and security lapses, assaults and gang activity, and several instances of female staffers being fired for fraternization or even sexual relationships with residents. And some inmates who have completed the program claim the place has more problems with violence, contraband and bogus classes than the inspection reports suggest. “It’s a joke,” says Doug Bullard, a 45-year-old parolee who left CMRC in September. “It’s a free-for-all. You got kids running amok. You got people climbing around in the ceilings, breaking into offices and stealing stuff. You got booze, you got drugs.”
Apparently things have not changed. An employee at the Cheyenne CEC site who fears retribution if his name is revealed says he has asked the two local news channels to look into the center but they seem uninterested. In his own words he explained last week to Blue Jersey:
“I fear for my own safety when I go to work. They release inmates that have no business being released, and most have commited other crimes and went right back into prison. The place is dangerous for the staff. One staff member had a heart attack and medical denied him care and refused to call 911. Inmates have died due to inadequate and incompetent medical care. Most recently an inmate died of a staph infection after having scarlet fever which the medical staff ignored. The employees are poorly trained and some are corrupt. Many employees have had or are having a sexual relationship with the inmates. Some are bringing in contraband, and when this is reported, our facility investigator sweeps it under the rug. Fights among the inmates, sexual misconduct and poorly trained employees spell disaster.”
For those who have read the NY Times articles this all sounds too familiar. Herb Jackson in NorthJersey.com reported today that Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) sent a letter to Charles E. Samuels Jr., director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, saying he had “deep concerns about the security at halfway houses and similar residential re-entry facilities across the United States.”
The Courier Post yesterday in a strongly worded editorial criticized Governor Christie for vetoing legislative halfway house provisions in the budget bill. In particular, the editorial says Christie should not have removed the requirement for regular reports and details on how inmates are being protected. The legislature just days ago also passed the important halfway house reform bill, S927, which is awaiting either a signature or veto in the Governor’s office.