New Jersey’s controversial private halfway houses are notoriously prone to escapes, but the ease with which fifteen inmates slipped out of one during Hurricane Sandy should give even their most ardent supporters pause. The inmates made their move when their facility, Logan Hall, lost power during the storm, the New York Times’ Sam Dolnick reports. After the building went dark, “the locks clicked open,” and a group of men walked out in what the Times calls “one of the largest mass escapes in the recent history of New Jersey’s corrections system.” After they left their rooms, one corrections union official told the Times, “the inmates basically rioted.”
Before they headed to the outside, the inmates took out some of their frustrations on the facility itself, trashing wall signs that read “Stop Lying” and “Admit When You Are Wrong,” Dolnick reported. Can’t say we blame them for that, but the other thing that happened during the unrest is a lot more disturbing:
At one point, a group of men, many wearing improvised masks that revealed only their eyes, headed toward the back of the building, where the female inmates were held, according to workers and correction officers.
A supervisor tried to stop them, demanding to know where they were going.
“You know why we’re here!” an inmate replied, according to a halfway house worker and a corrections officer who were there.
Fortunately, the workers managed to keep the female inmates safe, but from the description in the Times, they weren’t very well prepared for the whole debacle, having no flashlights and no training on how to use the site’s backup generators. After the inmates trashed the building, some went to go scale the outside fence, but they didn’t have to because the gate was open. Fifteen walked out and one is still free.
A separate Times report from June noted that Logan, “in recent years had one of the highest totals of escapes in the halfway house system — 185 from 2009 through 2011, according to state records.” It also noted that “Since 2005, roughly 5,100 inmates have escaped from the state’s privately run halfway houses, including at least 1,300 in the 29 months since Governor Christie took office, according to an analysis by the Times.” So escaping from a New Jersey halfway house is apparently not that difficult to begin with. Having a hurricane and blackout unlock the doors for you just makes it easier.