Tag Archive: Robert Gordon

Senate Democratic Leadership – Part 2

Yesterday, I interviewed Senate President Steve Sweeney and Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. Part 1 was posted yesterday, here.

In Part 2, below, the senators discuss the issues with New Jersey’s halfway houses, Governor Christie’s intransigence on providing low cost insurance through health exchanges, the vacancies on the state Supreme Court, the so-called Jersey Comeback, and Senator Weinberg’s Jersey Girls Caucus.



CEC Investigation: Our Legislators Take Action – Part VII

After years of groups and individuals raising warning signs about problems in halfway houses, the issue was placed in stark relief in a N Y Times devastating series of articles Unlocked by Sam Dolnick. On Thursday the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee chaired by Bob Gordon (D-37) and vice-chaired by Barbara Buono (D-18) will hold a hearing. On Monday the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee chaired by Charles Mainor (D-31) and vice chaired by Gilbert Wilson (D-5) will hold another hearing. The goals are to understand the problems and bring about solutions.

The Problems: Past articles in the Blue Jersey CEC Investigation series have highlighted serious improprieties regarding halfway houses – particularly those of Community Education Centers (CEC), which last year received $71 million out of $105 million in government expenses. It is a story of CEC’s Founder John Clancy who used a dubious agreement from a prior Attorney General to set up a shell non-profit company and then through large political contributions, lobbying, PR, a well connected legal VP, and friendship with a U.S. attorney and later governor to create a large corrections corporation. With insufficient monitoring from the Department of Corrections (DOC), this company ran facilities that bred an atmosphere of inmate drugs, escapes, violence, gangs, rapes, and deaths. With unqualified staff, security was compromised, the public at large was placed in danger with unnecessary escapes, and the goal of helping to reduce recidivism was given short shrift.

Christie confidante and CEC Senior Vice President, William Palatucci aided, abetted and defended CEC. Governor Christie as a lawyer at Dughi and Hewitt, as U.S. Attorney, and later as governor at a minimum praised and enabled the activities of CEC. He failed to implement remedies that other more responsible parties were calling for over the years, and he may have done so willfully and improperly. Now we are at the point where the valid role of halfway houses is being discredited, and the largest company in New Jersey is facing such severe financial problems that the DOC might need to take over at a moment’s notice thousands of inmates lodged annually in CEC facilities. CEC failings are not confined to NJ DOC contracts, but extend to those held by NJ local governments and such states as Texas, Alabama, and Colorado.

There are numerous solutions. The agreement that allowed CEC to use a non-profit organization as a front, in contravention to established regulations, should be ended for any future contracts and possibly existing contracts. CEC was able to build a monopolistic position, and it is now time to enable legitimate non profits to compete fairly for DOC contracts small and large. The Boxer audit laid out key recommendations for remedies, and it is essential to establish what progress DOC has achieved so far and to assure the recommendations are met. Dangerous inmates should not be lodged in halfway houses. The security and living conditions of inmates need to be improved. Process measures must be established to assure that the goals of reducing recidivism through drug treatment, job readiness, and other skills preparatory to re-entering the general population are being well administered. More qualified staffing is important. Pay-to-play regulations urgently need strengthening. People like Governor Christie should be disabused of the notion that privatization brings huge savings, as previous studies have shown that such savings are scant. Goals should include integrity, safety, and reducing recidivism not an elusive search for savings.

Below the fold are suggestions for some of the individuals who should testify and what questions legislators might ask the individuals.

 

CEC Investigation: The Rubber Hits The Road – Part V

“The recent disclosures about security lapses and other failures at the halfway houses contracted by the Department of Corrections (DOC) document a disturbing history of mismanagement and neglect that has jeopardized public safety and cost the lives of innocent individuals.” – Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37) in a letter of July 10, 2012, to NJ Department of Corrections Commissioner Gary M. Lanigan

After a lengthy investigation State Comptroller A. Matthew Boxer in June 2011 issued a report documenting “crucial weaknesses in state oversight of inmate halfway houses.” He made 28 recommendations to enhance DOC oversight. The report indicated “DOC’s response notes that it is working to implement the recommendations.” In June of this year (twelve months later) the NY Times published a series of three frightening articles which revealed that halfway houses were still plagued by “escapes, gang activity, sexual attacks, and rampant drug use.” Senator Weinberg’s conclusion: “Obviously, whatever changes were made have failed.”

In her letter to Commissioner Lanigan Senator Weinberg requested “full accounting by the DOC of its actions since June of last year to correct the problems identified by the comptroller and an explanation of why these actions failed.” Community Education Center (CEC) operates 70% of these facilities for inmates who are finishing their sentences and parolees who are re-entering society. The Times reported at one CEC site an inmate escaped in the process of being transported and murdered his girlfriend hours later. Another individual at the same facility murdered a resident being held on a motor vehicle violation.

The legislature has moved with speed to launch investigations to address this failure. The Assembly is planning an investigation tentatively in July. The Senate Legislative Oversight Committee chaired by Senator Robert Gordon (D-37) and vice-chaired by Senator Barbara Buono (D-18) has scheduled a hearing for July 26. Senator Gordon said, “Clearly, there is something going wrong. I believe the Legislature has an obligation to determine what the problem is and to develop solutions.”

More beyond the fold on problems and solutions for the upcoming investigations

CEC Investigation: The Clamor and Urgency Grow – Part IV

The Senate and Assembly are each now considering launching an investigation into NJ halfway houses, most of which are operated by Community Education Centers (CEC). Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) has approved the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee to launch an investigation if committee Chairman Senator Robert Gordon (D-38) wishes to proceed. Assemblyman Charles Mainor (D-31), chair of the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee, has said, “We definitely want a hearing and we want to concentrate on finding out why there are so many escapes going on, along with the recidivism, along with the crime that’s being committed by people that are escaping.”

Prior to the release of the NY Times’ scathing report on CEC and halfway houses, Governor Christie said at CEC’s Delaney Hall in 2010, this is “someplace where the work is purely good.” “Places like this are to be celebrated.” Just months before an inmate was murdered there. After release of the report Christie said his administration “takes its responsibility to properly administer this program very seriously.” Nonetheless, he line-item vetoed two important provisions which Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37) wrote into the Budget bill. Christie has been aware of these problems since even before becoming governor. His approach has been to sweep them under the rug, use line item vetoes and only grudgingly make minimal changes.

Christie’s numerous connections to CEC, CEC’s significant donations to his campaign, and Christie’s overriding belief in privatization all serve to create conflicts of interest. As the NY Times series documents, Governor Christie’s championing of CEC started in 2001 when he and law partner William Palatucci became registered lobbyists for CEC. Palatucci went on to become a vice President of CEC and close confidante of the governor. Since Christie took office 1,300 halfway house inmates have escaped, one of whom went on to murder a woman within hours of escaping from a CEC facility. Last summer Christie attended the wedding of the daughter of John Clancy, Founder and Chief Executive of CEC. Christie hired the groom, Samuel Vivattine, to work as an assistant in his office. Paul Krugman in a NY Times piece concludes what we are witnessing is a corrupt nexus of privatization and patronage that is undermining government across much of our nation.

It is not surprising that a wide variety of media and individuals have raised a hue and cry. See below the fold outraged editorials and commentary, as well as responses from two apologists/defenders.