Today’s Star-Ledger article on the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee Hearing on halfway houses reported on the early segment of this event which in total went from 2:00 PM to about 6:00 PM. The session began with a “politically correct” but on-point exposition of shortcomings presented by Comptroller Boxer. The early segment then moved into a full-throated defense by Department of Corrections Commissioner Gary Lanigan and Community Education Centers founder John Clancy. It was not until late in the afternoon when counseling, corrections, and foundation individuals testified about the true depth of the problem.
The Star-Ledger reported: Sen. Barbara Buono asked Clancy how she can reconcile his testimony, which provided glowing reports about operations at CEC, with the newspaper expose, the comptroller’s report and a report by the State Commission on Investigation. “Are they all fiction?” she asked. Personally I don’t think Clancy and Lanigan fooled the legislators.
It was in the unreported later part of the day when experts testified about lack of oversight and security, large numbers of inmates failing drug tests, lack of real programs, the revolving door of inmates going back and forth between prison or jail and halfway houses, inmates’ ease in getting contraband, low staff salary levels, secrecy maintained by the sites, lack of true cost information, and more. They made suggestions including performance contracting (reaching outcomes as a basis for payment), incentives to reduce escapes including third party review, opening up bidding to allow more competitors, and obtaining more of the available federal grant matching funds.
At the end Chair Senator Robert Gordon summarized some possible solutions: develop legislative tightening of contract procurement, increase staffing, improve staff training, assure that pre-adjudicated inmates not be sent to halfway houses, have uniformed officers in sites, and use performance contracting. For another take on yesterday’s hearing, read today’s N Y Times article.
On Monday at 10:30 AM the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee will hold its own hearing. Members will have the benefit of having learned what was disclosed during the Senate hearing and being able to pursue issues further.