Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

In Halfway Houses, They Hear You Scream

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

In Halfway Houses, They Hear You Scream

Article excerpt

IF THERE is a hell, it is a place where people hear you scream. It is a place where you emit a primal sound, something from deep down in your gut, an animal noise that would send dread into the souls of the most indifferent of men. People hear your pain, but this is hell, so they do not respond. For a low-level lawbreaker, for a barber who once smilingly posed for a photo with Newark Mayor Cory Booker, for Derek West Harris, this was Delaney Hall.

This week, The New York Times published an expose on New Jersey's halfway houses. Delaney Hall is one of those buildings. Over three days, The Times documented cases of sexual abuse, drug dealing, violence and even murder inside these privately run quasi-jails.

The political sensation of The Times' series was its connection between Republican Governor Christie and William Palatucci, a senior vice president of Community Education Centers, the company that runs Delaney Hall. The two men once were law partners and Palatucci is considered one of Christie's closest advisers. Christie was not the biggest part of the story.

The series noted the poor conditions inside halfway houses -- some with more than 1,000 beds -- didn't develop overnight. Over the terms of six governors, these transitional places for inmates expanded in physical size and, with that, CEC grew in political clout.

The Christie administration reacted quickly to The Times' series. At first dismissive of the newspaper's so-called liberal agenda, but soon after, there was a substantive response from the governor: There will be a thorough review.

What was missing was the human touch. The governor was at a town- hall style meeting in Cedar Grove on Tuesday. In the audience was Stella Tulli, the sister of Viviana Tulli, who was allegedly murdered by an escaped inmate from a halfway house. The governor stuck to his budget and tax-cutting script. He did not speak with Tulli, missing an opportunity to reach out to someone in pain, someone who wanted comfort more than confrontation.

On Sunday, Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, issued a statement on The Times' story. "The disclosure of the high rate of escapees from the halfway houses is an indictment of the administration on one of its most important public safety responsibilities," she said in part.

There was little said by other officials this week. Maybe because what happened at Delaney Hall, where Derek West Harris was sent after numerous traffic offenses only to end up murdered just days after incarceration, is an indictment not just on any gubernatorial administration, but on many state and county politicians, a good number of them Democrats. Christie once was a featured speaker at a Delaney Hall event, but so was Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver.

Christie is a fan of privatization and it has its place. …

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