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Benson, Mazzeo, Eustace & Wimberly Bill to Improve Protections Against Sex Offenders in Halfway Houses Continues Advancing
(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Daniel Benson, Vincent Mazzeo, Timothy Eustace and Benjie Wimberly to help provide stronger oversight and accountability of halfway houses and improve public safety was advanced Thursday by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
The bill is part of a 6-bill package advanced by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee in February.
The bills are in response to testimony heard by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee on July 23, 2012 concerning oversight and accountability of the state's halfway houses. The hearing was held following media reports of widespread problems in the privately run halfway houses, including escapes, gangs, drugs and sexual abuse. The bills would help address some of those issues.
A bill (A-1025) advanced Thursday sponsored by Benson, Mazzeo, Eustace and Wimberly would prohibit inmates or parolees who are required to register as sex offenders from being placed in residential community release programs before they have been tiered and the appropriate community notification has been given.
The bill would also prohibit placing a county inmate charged with a crime for which a conviction would require registration as a sex offender under Megan's Law in a residential community release program.
"The ease with which inmates have managed to escape from the state's halfway houses is chilling. More than 5,000 have escaped since 2005. Some were only caught after committing a crime while on the lam," said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "We owe it to these communities to give them advance notice when an inmate who is required to register as a sex offender moves into their neighborhood."
"The bill would close a loophole in the current sex offender community notification system that allows inmates and state parolees who are sex offenders to be placed in halfway houses without community notification because they are still considered to be in the state correctional system," said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). "Clearly, this is a common sense bill that needs to get done for the safety of our public, especially our children."
"The current system is unacceptable," said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). "We need to close this loophole and make clear that sex offenders are required to adhere to all standards of the law. It's the right thing to do."
"Public safety is always a top priority, which means this common sense bill is needed," said Wimberly (D-Passaic/Bergen). "We just cannot allow inmates or parolees who are required to register as sex offenders from being placed in residential community release programs before they have been tiered and the appropriate community notification has been given."
The bill was advanced by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
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