(TRENTON) — Democratic members of the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee — Chairman Charles Mainor (D-Hudson), Nelson T. Albano (D-Cumberland), Daniel R. Benson (D-Mercer), Joseph Cryan (D-Union) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer) — issued a multimedia package Thursday offering commentary following a recent hearing on the troubling lack of oversight at halfway houses operating under the Christie administration’s Department of Corrections.
The multimedia package consists of a video of the Democratic members discussing their thoughts on the meeting and audio and a transcript of same.
The audio file is available upon request.
A transcript of comments from Democratic members is appended below:
Assemblyman Charles Mainor (D-Hudson), Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee Chair:
“A half-way house is something that was designed to allow people to come out of the prison system, who’s very close to going home, and they put them in a half-way house to re-acclimate a person so they can be ready to go back into society.
“We’re hearing exactly what the half-way house is supposed to do, but then when we hear from the actual vendors, we see that it’s not being done correctly.”
Assemblyman Nelson T. Albano (D-Cumberland):
“A lot of the concerns that have been brought to me about half-way houses — and I have one in my district — is the accessibility to the drugs; the lack or the leniency on how they come and go; cell phones; and a lot of other issues.
“So this is something that I have dealt with on a personal issue: I have dealt with individuals that not only worked at half-way houses, but those individuals that were in half-way houses and ended up back in incarceration.”
Assemblyman Daniel R. Benson (D-Mercer):
“And we’re hearing that there is a lack of infrastructure in some of these half-way houses. There’s a lack of training, a lack of standards. There’s a lack of accountability. And as one person testifying said, security is treatment.
“If people in a half-way house have access to drugs and alcohol and illegal cell phones, how can we expect them to get the treatment that they need to be more productive in society, and how can we expect that those operators of the half-way houses have the accountability they need to make sure our taxpayer monies aren’t being wasted?”
Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union):
“The hearing’s been incredibly illuminating in terms of functions, how half-way houses actually operate and, quite frankly in my opinion, the lack of accountability from the department of corrections.
“The reality is half-way houses have grown from a small — I think many of us think of like a YMCA sort of setting — and the reality is these places hold 1,100 or more people in some cases.
“When you consider that and you consider the lack of oversight that’s occurred, along with some of the real, fundamental problems that are highlighted in recent press accounts, I think the committee has done a great job in terms of illuminating the issues.”
Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer):
“Half-way houses, I believe, are really important in the continuum of restoration back to the community. I think that we need to make sure that we have standards; that there are measurements that are taking place; that we understand that we’re more outcomes based than process oriented.
“And now’s the time that we need to reexamine what’s happening and how we’re doing what we’re doing and what changes need to be made.”
“First and foremost, public safety. It’s so unfortunate what happened to the Tulli family and we have to make sure that we put things in place so that never happens again.
“Also what we have to do is make sure that the employees are safe. That’s number two. And number three, not for nothing else, is that the taxpayers get their money’s worth. Because when these guys do come out of these half-way houses, they must be employable. They must be able to go back into society and become legitimate taxpayers. We don’t need to have them come out and go back to what they was doing to create recidivism.
“We have to move forward and get things done the right way.”