Photo of David Goodell

David Goodell

Two years ago the New York Times published a stunning account of inmates who had escaped from facilities in the state of New Jersey and murdered people while on the run. The inmates had escaped not from a prison but from privately run halfway houses. Not soon after the report questions began to be asked about why the inmates had been released from actual prisons in the first place and why a vast network of private for-profit facilities not only existed but was expanding in the state of New Jersey.

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.

Thousands of inmates have escaped from the privately run halfway houses committing numerous crimes including murder. There are no correctional officers on the premises and halfway house workers are “not allowed to restrain inmates who try to leave or to locate those who do not come back from work release.” Needless to say with such lax supervision and limited abilities to stop escapees only model inmates should be placed in halfway houses.

But instead of model inmates halfway houses are getting some of the most severe convicts in the state. Take David Goodell who, according to his parole documents viewed by Firedoglake, had been arrested for aggravated assault and making terroristic threats. Goodell was released in 2010 to a halfway house in Newark where he later escaped with little notice and murdered a woman he had been obsessed with while in prison.

Goodell was not the only one. Rafael Miranda escaped from a halfway house and later killed a man at a sports bar after attacking a bouncer. According the Times story halfway house escapees have racked up quite a lot of charges after they run for it.

* Leland Washington held up a gas station with a knife and tried to force an attendant into the bathroom.

* Aryam Mojica assaulted a police officer who pulled over his car.

* Hiram Rivera Jr. was caught with a cache of weapons and drugs.

* Marcus Jones pleaded guilty to a role in a shooting.

With a system so flawed why was it being expanded in New Jersey? The answer may be tied to one of Governor Chris Christie’s closest advisors, Bill Palatucci.

As Firedoglake previously reported, Chris Christie and Bill Palatucci were business partners in a Trenton lobbying firm – Dughi and Hewit. One of firm’s clients, according to lobbying records, was Community Education Centers (CEC). CEC runs the halfway house system in New Jersey and used Palatucci as their lobbyist in Trenton.

Palatucci and Christie’s relationship had continued on from their lobbying work together. It was Palatucci that sent Christie’s resume to Karl Rove who successfully lobbied President George W. Bush to appoint Christie as US Attorney. Christie and Palatucci had both been Bush fundraisers for the 2000 presidential campaign.

In 2005 CEC hired Bill Palatucci as a senior vice president for business development. Palatucci¬† stayed in that position until 2012 when the Times story broke which means he remained at CEC while helping to run and fundraise for Christie’s campaign for governor as well as his transition team. One of the transition’s team’s reports on prison policy, wait for it, recommended more money for halfway houses. That report was authored in part by Ralph Fretz, CEC’s director of assessment and research.

Palatucci and Fretz are not the only CEC staffers to make it into Christie’s inner circle. Christie has a close relationship with John Clancy, the CEO of CEC. Not only has Christie spoken approvingly at CEC events , Christie hired Mr. Clancy’s son-in-law to be an assistant in his office.

In the wake of the revelations of the escapees and their crimes a bill, A3503, was put forward and passed in by New Jersey State Assembly only to die in the Law and Public Safety Committee State Senate.

Why the bill died remains unclear.

Photo by New Jersey Department of Corrections.