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June 17, 2012

"As Escapees Stream Out, a Penal Business Thrives"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable front-page New York Times article, which is the first of a three-part series of articles concerning New Jersey’s system of large halfway houses.  Here is how the very-lengthy first piece gets started:

After serving more than a year behind bars in New Jersey for assaulting a former girlfriend, David Goodell was transferred in 2010 to a sprawling halfway house in Newark. One night, Mr. Goodell escaped, but no one in authority paid much notice.  He headed straight for the suburbs, for another young woman who had spurned him, and he killed her, the police said.

The state sent Rafael Miranda, incarcerated on drug and weapons charges, to a similar halfway house, and he also escaped.  He was finally arrested in 2010 after four months at large, when, prosecutors said, he shot a man dead on a Newark sidewalk — just three miles from his halfway house.

Valeria Parziale had 15 aliases and a history of drugs and burglary.  Nine days after she slipped out of a halfway house in Trenton in 2009, Ms. Parziale, using a folding knife, nearly severed a man’s ear in a liquor store.  She was arrested and charged with assault but not escape.  Prosecutors say they had no idea she was a fugitive.

After decades of tough criminal justice policies, states have been grappling with crowded prisons that are straining budgets.  In response to those pressures, New Jersey has become a leader in a national movement to save money by diverting inmates to a new kind of privately run halfway house.

At the heart of the system is a company with deep connections to politicians of both parties, most notably Gov. Chris Christie.  Many of these halfway houses are as big as prisons, with several hundred beds, and bear little resemblance to the neighborhood halfway houses of the past, where small groups of low-level offenders were sent to straighten up.

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 New York 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, including at least 1,300 in the 29 months since Governor Christie took office, according to an analysis by The Times.  Some inmates left through the back, side or emergency doors of halfway houses, or through smoking areas, state records show.  Others placed dummies in their beds as decoys, or fled while being returned to prison for violating halfway houses’ rules.  Many had permission to go on work-release programs but then did not return.

While these halfway houses often resemble traditional correctional institutions, they have much less security.  There are no correction officers, and workers are not allowed to restrain inmates who try to leave or to locate those who do not come back from work release, the most common form of escape.  The halfway houses’ only recourse is to alert the authorities. And so the inmates flee in a steady stream: 46 last September, 39 in October, 40 in November, 38 in December, state records show.

“The system is a mess,” said Thaddeus B. Caldwell, who spent four years tracking down halfway house escapees in New Jersey as a senior corrections investigator.  “No matter how many escaped, no matter how many were caught, no matter how many committed heinous acts while they were on the run, they still kept releasing more guys into the halfway houses, and it kept happening over and over again.”  By contrast, the state’s prisons had three escapes in 2010 and none in the first nine months of 2011, the last period for which the state gave figures.

UPDATE:  The second piece in this series is headlined "At a Halfway House, Bedlam Reigns," and is now available at this link.

June 17, 2012 at 11:47 AM | Permalink


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sounds and looks like everyone involved in this total fuck up need to be in cells of their own and NOT ones in this mess.

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 17, 2012 12:27:36 PM

One has to wonder about the adjudicated charges of these ultra-violent predators. Were they classified as non-violent offenders?

Under 123D, none would have seen an 1th birthday. They would all be gone. There would be no government expense. And there would be many victims still alive. The number of victims of each of the lawyer clients is unknown, until they are water boarded to solve all their crimes.

These murders are as foreseeable as the orbits of planets. Thus, the lawyers in charge of the criminal law had a duty to protect the public. Since they have made themselves absolutely immune, the families of the murder have good justification to beat their asses, and even to kill them, in Biblical style retribution. The justifications are in formal logic, ethics, utility, and policy. The criminals are impulsive and cannot control themselves well. The officials had their bodies under full control. They must bear all responsibility for the murders.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 17, 2012 3:22:32 PM

Congratulations to Doug Berman for once again showing what intellectual honesty looks like. Here is an article that, just in its first two paragraphs, blows the doors off the notion that reducing imprisonment to save money is an unalloyed wonderful idea.

Sure, we can save money by reducing incarceration. The question is whether the additional crime, including (as the article shows) additional murder, is worth it.

I will therefore ask the liberals commenting on this site to state the number of additional murders they are willing to see happen in order to save, say, a million dollars in incarceration costs.

Prediction: I'll get plenty of criticism for asking, and plenty of dodges for "answers." The one thing I won't get is the number, at least not by anyone willing to sign his or her actual name.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 17, 2012 3:29:34 PM

While the Times tries to tie these problems specifically to the Christie administration, the truth is that these sorts of problems are entirely predictable when people who otherwise would be in a real prison are instead sent to halfway houses. Despite some judges' belief, halfway houses just don't offer meaningful protection against the truly dangerous.

Posted by: Also important | Jun 17, 2012 3:46:32 PM

I might have missed this, but did any of the people who committed the crimes in the article serve less time than required by law because of the move to halfway houses? I know the article is trying to tie Christie to the company and says that states generally are relying more on halfway houses, but did any of these people get out of jail early? I didn't see that. Seems like an important point.

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Jun 17, 2012 9:27:36 PM

The important question and Thinkaboutit touches on it, is what is the recidivism rate with the halfway house compared to the recidivism rate without any? Even if they were let out a few months earlier would requiring those few months in prison without halfway house actually reduce recidivism or just postpone the inevitable? The crimes were tragic but not necessarily the sole fault of halfway houses. And how many do well with halfway houses? Not nearly as dramatic but there must be another side to that equation.

As to liberal v conservative, punishment for profit is a conservative brainchild.

Posted by: George | Jun 18, 2012 1:11:25 AM

Thinkaboutit --

The question is not how much time was served but WHERE it was served. Halfway houses are cheaper than prison but not anywhere near as secure, as the NYT piece makes clear (and as every sensible person knew anyway).

The less secure facility saved dough, but at the cost of making possible the walk-away-and-then-murder episodes described in the article. If the convicts had remained in (more expensive) imprisonment, they would not have walked away.

So, again, I will ask the liberals commenting on this site to state the number of additional murders they are willing to see happen in order to save, say, a million dollars in prison costs.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 18, 2012 8:30:38 AM

Congratulations to Bill Otis for once again showing what intellectual dishonesty looks like and avoiding the relevant issue. The article describes problems in NEW JERSEY'S halfway house system. It does not support the claim that ALL halfway house systems are similarly dysfunctional.

Otis is just trying to divert attention from the fact that REPUBLICAN Governor Christie's administration is responsible for the dysfunction in New Jersey's halfway house system. And he is trying to divert attention from the fact that the REPUBLICAN holygrail of privatizing everything under the sun while permitting unlimited political donations from private corportions is part of the problem.

Posted by: Jay | Jun 18, 2012 9:55:10 AM

Jay --

If this is Christie's doing, he should be held fully accountable.

Now I will ask you the question you walked past: What number of additional murders are you willing to see happen in order to save, say, a million dollars in prison costs?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 18, 2012 10:46:51 AM

Christie inherited this mess. It should have been addressed by him already though. My guess is that the reaction is going to be swift and drastic.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 18, 2012 6:31:01 PM

'Christie inherited this mess.'

my goodness another republican apologist

Posted by: grady | Jun 18, 2012 11:13:55 PM

Jay and grady --

Whether in New Jersey or anywhere else, halfway houses cost less than prison because they don't have prison's very expensive security features. Without those security features, convicts can just walk away. The NYT story gives several concrete illustrations of what happened after they walked away, namely, in a couple of instances, murder. So I will ask again: What number of additional murders are you willing to see happen in order to save, say, a million dollars in prison costs?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 19, 2012 9:01:58 AM

grady--why don't you learn how to read? Christie DID inherit this. And I also said that he should have addressed it already.

You owe me an apology.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 19, 2012 10:23:42 AM

federalist --

The thread is now three days old, so it's reasonably clear that you're no more getting an apology than I'm getting an answer to my question. Just to remind folks, the question -- formulated in light of the NYT's revelations -- was: "What number of additional murders are you willing to see happen in order to save, say, a million dollars in prison costs?"

Those yelping incessantly about "incarceration nation" simply refuse to answer.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 20, 2012 10:39:53 AM

Yep Bill, these nitwits take their shots, but either fight a rhetorical reargaurd when called out (a la Joe and the good visiting prof) or simply do not respond. Pathetic.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 20, 2012 1:56:07 PM

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