Following legislative halfway house hearings four months ago, Assemblyman Chales Mainor (D-31) Chair, Law & Public Safety Committee, has introduced five new bills. They could have a substantial impact on halfway house operators (particularly the largest, Community Education Centers), inmate security and services, and public safety. Mainor is joined by primary sponsors Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15), Gilbert Wilson (D-5), Daniel Benson (D-14), Nelson Albano (D-1) and Joseph Cryan (D-20). The text of the bills has not yet been posted, but the brief description of each and my comments in brackets, suggest that key issues are being addressed:
A3502 – Requires DOC to conduct quarterly site visits at residential community release programs. [In the past there have been insufficient monitoring site visits.]
A3503 – Establishes “Task Force To Review Residential Community Release Programs” to review this State’s halfway houses and make recommendations concerning security and inmate services. [A lack of security and inmate services have been a significant problem.]
A3504 – Prohibits pre-trial county inmates charged with first, second, or third degree crimes from being placed in halfway houses. [Placing such inmates in halfway houses, never designed for such prisoners, has been a major cause of violence, escapes, and drugs.]
A3505 – Requires the Division of Purchase and Property to award contracts to halfway houses; sets forth certain contract requirements. [Removes contracting from Department of Corrections, which has mismanaged the awarding and overseeing of operators, and creates needed new standards.]
A3506 – Requires residential community release programs to file certain financial disclosure documents with DOC. [There has been a lack of halfway house financial transparency and incidents of overbilling.]
These bills and others still need to wend their way through the legislature and may face opposition from Governor Christie who has blocked previous reform efforts. They are a good start.