On January 16, Zawbdiyel Media published the story, The Clinton House: Promoting Social Justice and Human dignity. Contained within in the article were interviews with the Clinton House Program Supervisor, James McGovern and two of the Clinton House Facility Monitors, Clarence Carmichael and Ronald Sherman. To broaden the perspective on the services the Clinton House provides to New Jersey inmates, Zawbdiyel Media spoke with former Clinton House resident Mike Virrilli . Verrilli had many good things to say about the Clinton house in respect to privileges that are not afforded to inmates doing time in prison, and the benefits of a transitional period before being fully re-integrated into society.
Since the publishing of the article Virrilli has been released and is enjoying time with his family and friends. Verrilli says that he feels that he is very “fortunate” that he was able to transition back into society with the help of the Clinton House and that he appreciates the opportunity he was given. Unfortunately there are no statistics as to the success of prior residents who have been released from the Clinton House; however, he is “positive, motivated” and “ready to face whatever challenges life throws.”
New Jersey is the nation’s leader in drug incarcerations. In fact 25% of all inmates incarcerated in NJ are non-violent drug offenders. This is due, in part to mandatory penalties imposed on convicted drug offenders. The guidelines for sentencing date back to the 1980s when former president Ronald Reagan declared war on drugs. Last July, Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, called the war on drugs a failure and announced plans to reform efforts to battle the state’s drug epidemic more effectively. In June, Governor Christie signed a bill that would require non-violent offenders to go to drug rehabilitation centers and transitional housing facilities instead of doing time in prison. These changes in legislature are meant to help with the overcrowding of New Jersey prisons, reduce the $11 billion New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) budget and get drug addicts the help and treatment they need. Currently, 22,000 inmates are able to be housed in New Jersey Correctional facilities. In 2011, 10,839 were committed to the NJDOC. Each inmate costs approximately $49,000 per year to keep locked up. The overcrowding causes dangerous conditions for prisoners and the corrections officers that look after them. Halfway houses cost $30,000 per inmate per year and provide more intensive and direct care to inmates. Governor Christie’s efforts have fallen under considerable scrutiny because of his close personal relationship with John Clancy, CEO of the Community Education Centers (CEC). The CEC Grossed over $71 million dollars in 2011 and received high praise from Christie in their rehabilitative efforts. Last June, Sam Dolnick, of the New York Times published an article about the CEC. In Dolnick’s 10-month investigative report, he highlighted the ineffectiveness and dangers to the community caused by CEC facilities. Among these highlights were uneducated staff, frequent escapes and the murder of Viviana Tulli by an escaped inmate David Goodell. Dolnick stated in his report that the CEC had become a “shadow corrections system with lax oversight.”
In contrast to the large modern CEC facilities, there are smaller halfway houses that are run in residential dwellings. These houses can be found throughout neighborhoods and communities. In1966, the New Jersey Association on Correction (NJAC) opened New Jersey’s first halfway house, Clinton House. NJAC was also the first organization in New Jersey to work with federal and state government in pre-release programs for inmates.
The Clinton House has provided New Jersey inmates the opportunity to serve the final months of their sentencing in a community setting. Supported by trained professionals, residents of the Clinton House are able to re-adjust to community living. While at the Clinton House, residents are afforded the opportunity and assistance to find employment or attend college or an approved training program. Case Managers work with the clients in order to provide them with the tools necessary to gain meaningful employment or training.
According to Clinton House Supervisor James McGovern and Facility monitor Clarence Carmichael, Clinton House resident process through treatment centers like Bo Robinson before coming to the Clinton House. At treatment centers inmates are further reviewed to determine if they are suitable candidates for community release programs. It is from these centers that they are moved to various programs and facilities throughout the state of New Jersey. CEC facilities in particular are the facilities that Dolnick reported on in his investigative report on.
Residents choose to come to the program voluntarily and consent to abiding by the house rules. Residents agree to a program contract which is developed with the Clinton House Case Managers. The Program Contract is composed according to the needs of the individual resident and takes into account their personal goals as well as educational, employment, financial, and counseling needs.
Residents receive counseling individually and in groups. Individual counseling allows residents to focus on the issues that are specific to them, while in group sessions, discussions focus on the development of communication skills and social responsibility. Also, specialized mental health and substance abuse counseling is available. While staying at the Clinton house residents are required to volunteer at least once a week with a local non-profit organization.
It’s holiday time again and the New Holy Cross Voices in Praise Choir (VIP) is helping out with your gift wrapping needs. On December the 15th and 22nd, the VIPs will be at the New Holy Cross Church of Christ, at 500 E. State St. in Trenton, NJ raising funds for their choir by receiving donations for Holiday Wrapping. Patrice Thomas, the Choirs president, was on hand last Saturday to meet and greet shoppers who in the holiday shopping rush may be too tired or too busy to do their own rapping. In addition to the VIP wrapping services, the choir will also be conducting a holiday bake sale.
For more information contact Patrice Thomas at http://www.facebook.com/patrice.thomas.756?fref=ts
The investigation is ongoing. Both sides present a strong case. The question is in the effectiveness of methods and who stands to gain from the changes in structure and legislature. The issue is multifaceted and reaches in many directions, but at the core as with so many issues is the money.
The Governor’s plan sounds good, but are the halfway house facilities able to handle the task of security, care and rehabilitation? Halfway houses incur less financial expense, but at what cost? If the safety of tax payers who fund either system is placed in jeopardy is the money saved really worth it?
Stay tuned in as Zawbdiyel Media goes inside a smaller halfway house facility and gets first hand insight from experts in the field.