How to Fix Halfway Houses in Jersey: Stop Making More Criminals

The New York Times has recently published a couple of articles about everything that is wrong with halfway houses in New Jersey. Their biggest problem, aside from being located in New Jersey, is that people are escaping from these privatized prison alternatives at an alarming rate, mostly due to a lack of funding and the necessity of cutting costs.

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.

The numbers are indisputable.The Times reports that 5,100 inmates have escaped from halfway houses since 2005, thanks to terrible security and crowded conditions.

In a fun op-ed published today, Paul Krugman mentioned that halfway houses often cut their budgets by skimping on labor costs. Surely he is right. He also makes note that minor criminals are often victimized at the hands of serious offenders in these institutions. 

"So let's see: Privatized prisons save money by employing fewer guards and other workers, and by paying them badly. And then we get horror stories about how these prisons are run. What a surprise!"

But while Krugman asserts that these problems will always exist in privatized prisons, the pro-liberty answer seems much less fatalistic—just stop making so many damn criminals.

Sentencing people for drug crimes and commercialized vice are handy ways to manufacture more criminals every day. As of 2009 in state prisons, 17.8 percent of all inmates were present because of drug-related charges, according to the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics. In federal prisons in 2004, 54.1 percent of inmates were sentenced for drug offenses. And people wonder why prisons and halfway houses are low on resources. They have to hold exponentially more types and numbers of criminals than they should.

If private halfway houses are failing, it is only because they are forced to handle the absurdities of criminal law. Eliminating drug and victimless crimes would not only free up resources currently being spent on them, but presumably remove the risk of prison violence against most minor offenders. Of course, this would require an end to the War on Drugs. Which is going to happen any day now. Right?

For Reason's coverage of the War on Drugs, see here and here.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Eliminating drug and victimless crimes would not only free up resources currently being spent on them, but presumably remove the risk of prison violence against most minor offenders.

    If you don't have any serious solutions to all these criminals getting loose, Thompson, then just say so.

  • albo||

    I'm all in favor of decriminalizing most all drugs, but let's not play up all people in jail for drug crimes as average folk who'd help a neighbor rebuild his barn with a cheerful smile if he weren't stuck in the hole for a gram of sticky icky.

    Just because you're in the stir for a "victimless crime" doesn't always mean you don't deserve to be there. Most of this guys are real losers; air should be illegal if they breathe it.

  • ||

    Why the scare quotes, are you suggesting they aren't victimless?

  • albo||

    I'm not convinced there is such beast. If a legislature creates a crime, it's rational to assume that it has identified a victim the requires justice be served, even if it is merely society in a general sense or "public order and decency" (like in PA).

    Now, whether that's a bogus victim or not, that we can argue about, especially in the case of drug use.

  • R C Dean||

    If you think "society in general" or "public order and decency" can be a victim, then the word has no meaning.

  • lightning||

    Actually, in criminal law the prosecution is always called "the people" because although crime can involve an individual it is the crime against society that is at issue.

  • Aresen||

    it's rational to assume that it has identified a victim the requires justice be served, even if it is merely society in a general sense or "public order and decency"

    Thanks for making me vomit.

  • ShagNasty||

    I get the impression you don't actually know many drug users. The crowd depends on the drug, but in my experience most pot smokers are morally sound, productive individuals. Same goes for psychedelic users, and a hell of alot more "hard" drug users than you'd think.

  • ¿Ex Nihilo?||

    Just because you're in the stir for a "victimless crime" doesn't always mean you don't deserve to be there. Most of this guys are real losers; air should be illegal if they breathe it.

    Yeah, they just have to be guilty of something.

  • Pi Guy||

    Legalize it. Legalize it all.

    And, albo, unless you've spent any time in these halfway houses, I'd think it wise to reserve judgement about who's a loser until you've run a few laps around the block in their moccasins.

  • albo||

    In PA at least, you have to really f-up multiple times and be a pretty bad person to finally make it to state prison, especially for drug crimes. Get caught for dope in Philly--I don't thing the system takes you seriously until you're into into the high single digits for offenses.

  • Wilt Chamberlain||

    Of course Krugman thinks the problem with overcrowding is the fact that the prisons are private. I'm sure if the prisons were government institutions and the guards had hefty union benefits he'd be fine with the drug war. Just think, the more prisoners we have the more guards we have to hire. Unemployment would be history.

  • Aresen||

    Krugmann may not remember the horror stories of prisons in the 1960s and 1970s (cf the infamous Attica riot where dozens of prisoners were killed), but he should at least be reminded of Sherriff Joe's little prison camp in Arizona.

  • fish||

    .....but he should at least be reminded of Sherriff Joe's little prison camp in Arizona.

    Is there anyway we can "remind" him that involves making him do a nickel?

  • lightning||

    A problem with halfway houses not mentioned here (as well as other "step down facilities") is that once you have overcrowding, the criteria for being placed in a less secure facility becomes a lot less stringent. This is why you get the horrific mix of real bad*sses and non violent offenders in these places. The non violent belong the others don't but were forced in due to overcrowding. I have heard this is also true at all stages of the prison system, although I can't speak based on experience.

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