New Jersey halfway houses plagued by escapes, abuse, NYT report finds


New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks to guests at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center on June 8, 2012 in Rosemont, Illinois. Christie has come under scrutiny due to a New York Times investigation into the state's privatized halfway-house system.


Scott Olson

New Jersey's halfway houses, designed to prepare former prison inmates for reintegration into society, are fraught with escapes and abuse, a New York Times investigative report published Sunday has found

The report focuses on incidents at Albert M. “Bo” Robinson Assessment and Treatment Center, a 900-bed halfway house in Trenton, New Jersey which is at the forefront of a nation-wide movement to privatize correctional facilities, according to the Times. 

"These facilities are not the street-corner halfway houses of the past," the New York Times' Sam Dolnick wrote. "...Yet Bo Robinson, behind its walls, often seems to embody the worst in the prisons it was intended to supplant. Imagine a sizable penitentiary, filled with inmates, some with violent records, but lacking the supervision that prevents such places from falling into bedlam." 

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Since 2005, the state's facilities have had around 5,100 escapes, compared to three escapes from New Jersey prisons in 2010 and none in the first nine months of 2011, according to CBS New York.

The Times also found rampant reports of sexual and drug abuse within the system. 73 percent of inmates testes for drugs came up positive, despite government agencies funneling millions of dollars to the Bo Robinson Center for drug counseling efforts, according to the Times. 

Inmates in the correctional facilities also often request that they be sent back to prison, where they feel safer and better taken-care of, workers told the Times. 

The report has earned sharp criticism for state governor Chris Christie, who has been a champion of privatizing many of New Jersey’s public institutions, The New Jersey Record reported.

Montclair State political science Professor Brigid Harrison, a respected political analyst in New Jersey, called the report's consequences for Christie on a national level “enormous," according to the Record. 

“This gives pause because it is so recent and so fresh,” Harrison said.

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Christie’s office and Community Education Centers (CEC), the company which runs the Bo Robinson facility, both denounced the report. CEC has had a long-standing relationship with New Jersey spanning six governors, according to the Record. 

"The Times has handpicked tragic yet rare, isolated, incidents to paint a misleading and inaccurate image of New Jersey's reentry system," the CEC said in a statement, according to WNYC

Roughly 40 percent of the state’s prison inmate and parole population, or around 10,000 people, are put through the privately-run halfway house system, the Times reported.