Halfway houses have become a growing fixture within the criminal justice system of New Jersey. They are largely seen as a money-saving option for the state and a chance to avoid prison for those sentenced to them. But, they are underfire for what the New York Times says is an alarming number of escapes due, in part, to a lack of oversight.
This week, the Times ran a lengthy piece on New Jersey’s halfway house system, criticizing the companies running them and state administrators alike.
These aren’t the halfway houses many people think of, with offenders staying in various bedrooms of an oversized but still traditional home. No, these resemble small community prisons, some with hundreds of beds.
Since 2005, the Times reports, about 5,100 inmates have escaped from the halfway houses of New Jersey, some to go on to commit heinous crimes like murder and assault.
Halfway houses, unlike prisons, aren’t staffed by guards. And the people working there aren’t allowed to physically restrain inmates. So if an offender really wants to get out—he can.
The Times began their investigation last year. After, Governor Christie promised tighter regulations on the system. In the first five months of 2012, the state could boast that only 181 inmates had escaped from halfway houses, a 35% decrease from the same period in 2010. The Governor has been active in criminal justice reform issues, particularly where costs are an issue, recently suggesting mandatory drug courts for those accused of drug possession charges.
Many lawmakers seem unaware or unconcerned with the problems in these community institutions.
“I have heard of no more than three,” said Assemblyman Charles Mainor, chairman of the Law and Public Safety Committee when asked how many people escaped from the state halfway houses in 2011. The actual number: 452.
“It’s a cheaper way of doing business,” he went on. “So, that’s why it behooves us to use that option.”
No one would suggest that halfway houses don’t have a place in the modern justice system. Prisons are overcrowded and states don’t have the money to lock everyone up. But, hiring a private firm to warehouse inmates in what they call halfway houses, with little oversight and a hands-off policy doesn’t help anyone in the long run.
Halfway house escapees are eventually caught, whether it takes days or months. Then they are shuffled back through the courts and sent to prison to serve the rest of their sentence. Usually they aren’t caught until they commit another crime. By taking the risk that a potentially dangerous inmate will escape, the state is taking the risk that they will have to absorb any current savings later on by taking the same inmate back through the system.
Halfway houses are preferable to prison, particularly for the offenders who are sent there. But they are still not a walk in the park.
More and more, people convicted of offenses are being sent to community institutions like these. If you are accused of a crime, you could be headed in that direction too.
Contact our offices today to discuss your case and if there is a chance you could avoid a conviction altogether. A plea agreement is one option in which you may qualify for serving probation in lieu of active time, whether at a halfway house or secure facility.
Call us now for a free consultation.