The company taking over the troubled MinSec private detention center in Hazleton has a troubled history of its own, according to reports in The New York Times.
In articles published as early as last June through as recently as Sunday, The Times has painted Community Education Centers as a financially struggling, politically connected organization that cut corners and used legal loopholes to gain a big chunk of halfway house contracts in New Jersey.
The company denies the allegations, and offered stinging criticism of the original three-part series published by the Times last June that looked at halfway houses throughout New Jersey.
The New York Times' series on New Jersey's residential re-entry programs is continuously defined by inaccurate and grossly misleading reporting, company spokesman Christopher Greeder said in a written statement.
The opening installment focused on Community Education's senior vice president at the time, William J. Palatucci, a close friend and former law partner of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. It notes Community Education has grown to become the largest single receiver of state and county money for halfway houses in the state, getting $71 million out of a total of roughly $105 million in 2011.
But the article also notes a Christie spokesman denied any favoritism, and cites federal data that show recidivism – the return of released prisoners to crime and prison – has dropped from 30,000 in 2000 to 25,000 in 2010.
In later articles, The Times describes the three-part series as having shown that New Jersey's privately run halfway houses are often chaotic, filled with contraband and gang activity, and they offer shoddy treatment.
About a month later, The Times ran another article outlining claims made in a federal lawsuit filed by a former Community Education executive. The Times reported the documents and depositions in the case described a company that had such severe financial difficulties over the last four years that it contemplated filing for bankruptcy in 2010.
The documents, according to The Times, portray a company that has been in crisis and trying to fend off creditors, even as it has mounted a robust lobbying and public relations campaign.
The problem stemmed from stymied expansion attempts outside of New Jersey, but prompted staffing and other reductions in the New Jersey facilities, according to the article.
MinSec opened in the former Altamont Hotel building in the heart of Hazleton's downtown in 2008. Officials have linked the facility to dozens of inmate-related crimes and escapes, and it has been sharply criticized by state Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Butler Township.
When Community Education announced on Nov. 30 that it was taking over the facility, the company also announced plans to move it out of the city.
In his statement Wednesday, Greeder defended the company.
CEC is extremely proud of its work re-entering offenders in New Jersey and the significant contribution our efforts have made reducing the state's prison population – the largest reduction in the nation since 1999 at 24 percent. CEC-operated assessment centers and residential community release programs provide our residents with the tools they need to be positive members of the community and public safety is always the highest priority at all the facilities we operate. The progressive decision to make assessment, work release, substance abuse treatment, life-skills training, family and educational services a cornerstone of New Jersey's correctional re-entry system developed over many years and has resulted in New Jersey being a national leader in the provision of these services.