New Jersey has become a leader in a national movement to save money by diverting prison inmates to a new kind of privately run halfway house. The New York Times says many of these halfway houses are as big as prisons and bear little resemblance to the neighborhood halfway houses of the past, where small groups of low-level offenders were sent to straighten up. The paper says Gov. Chris Christie has championed the company that plays a principal role in the New Jersey system, Community Education Centers, which received about $71 million from state and county agencies in New Jersey in 2011, about two-thirds of all halfway house spending.
William J. Palatucci, the governor's close friend, political adviser and former law partner, is a senior vice president at Community Education. New Jersey officials have called these large facilities an innovative example of privatization and have promoted the approach all the way to the Obama White House. Yet with little oversight, the state's halfway houses have mutated into a shadow corrections network, where drugs, gang activity and violence, including sexual assaults, often go unchecked, according to a 10-month investigation by the Times. Perhaps the most unsettling sign of the chaos within is inmates' ease in getting out. Since 2005, roughly 5,100 inmates have escaped from the state's privately run halfway houses.