TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) – Lack of state oversight has led to numerous escapes and other widespread problems at New Jersey’s halfway houses, The New York Times has reported

During its 10-month investigation, the newspaper reported on Saturday that it found that New Jersey’s halfway houses have “mutated into a shadow corrections network,” where drugs, gang activity and violence often go unchecked.

WCBS 880’s Monica Miller reports 

Roughly 5,100 inmates have escaped from the state’s privately run halfway houses since 2005, the newspaper reported. 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 provided figures.

State Comptroller Matthew Boxer released an audit last year that found that many halfway houses had lax security and state inspections were lenient, if done at all.

The Christie administration also commissioned a three-year study on whether the halfway-house system helps inmates, and established a task force to coordinate a state effort to help inmates as they leave prisons.

Overall, New Jersey has about 3,500 beds in about two dozen halfway houses. The halfway house population includes people serving time for murder, armed robbery, assault and weapons possession, and the proportion of violent offenders in halfway houses is rising.

Community Education Centers, whose efforts have been championed by Christie, runs six large re-entry centers, with a total of 1,900 beds for state inmates and parolees, along with others for county and federal inmates. Robert Mackey, a senior vice president at Community Education, said that the company has excellent security and tries to prevent escapes by providing therapy and other services to discourage inmates from leaving.

The company told the newspaper that it can’t be held responsible for escapes by inmates who enter the system through its program but later escape from another halfway house. It said its escape rate was “staggeringly low.”

“To focus on walkaways from halfway houses would be to report on only part of the story, and not include the positive outcomes for the majority of offenders who complete a halfway-house program without walking away,” the company added in a statement to the newspaper.

The newspaper also reported on Saturday that Community Education has ties to Christie and high-ranking lawmakers, and got about $71 million from state and county agencies in the 2011 fiscal year, when roughly $105 million was spent overall.

The governor was a registered lobbyist for the company in 2000 and 2001 when he was a private lawyer, the newspaper said, citing disclosure reports that his law firm filed with the state.

But Community Education and Christie aides said that the governor did not lobby for the company.

Christie administration officials said that the company has received no special treatment from them, noting that the firm had been “associated with public contracting in New Jersey going back no less than 18 years, to the administration of Gov. James Florio and every governor, Democrat or Republican, since that time.”

“The suggestion of favoritism is defeated by the demonstrable fact that none has occurred,” Michael Drewniak, the governor’s spokesman, told the newspaper.

What can possibly be done to fix this widespread and seemingly growing problem? Offer your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below…

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