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TRENTON In the wake of a series of reports surrounding the deaths of two escaped inmates from a halfway house in Mercer County, Senator Shirley K. Turner is introducing legislation next month to impose greater oversight of drug testing at private correctional facilities.

The bill would require the state to oversee random drug tests at the private correctional facilities, also known as halfway houses. Currently, the state provides drug testing kits to the facilities it contracts with and leaves the centers to administer the tests as well as report back the results. Bo Robinson center, a private halfway house designed to educate and integrate inmates into society through job and drug rehabilitation programs, houses separately both state and county inmates. While the center conducts drug testing on the state’s behalf, Mercer County administers its own tests on county inmates. However recent reports found that that there are a higher number of failed test results among Mercer County inmates compared to results of state inmates provided by the center when the county has fewer prisoners. In addition, two inmates were found dead of a drug overdose after escaping from the facility.

“The results of these drug tests are questionable,” said Senator Turner (D-Hunterdon, Mercer). “These numbers and the incidents involving residents at the Bo Robinson center call into question whether proper drug testing and supervision are taking place at private halfway houses. This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed immediately in order to ensure the health, safety, and success of these inmates.”

A recent published report in the Trentonian found that between January 2013 and March 2015, the state had four positive drug testing results while Mercer County had nine. Overall there were 584 tests on county inmates and 22,474 drug tests on state inmates. Interviews with previous and current inmates found that prisoners were able to access illegal substances inside the halfway house, according to the report.

“Greater oversight is needed to ensure private halfway houses comply with their contracts so that inmates receive the proper services to become productive members of society,” added Turner. “It is therefore crucial to ensure that the state conducts tests directly in order to reduce recidivism and drug abuse.  Inmates are being housed in these facilities at the taxpayers’ expense under the guise that it will be a cost savings; however, that does not mean that the health and safety of inmates should be placed at risk.”

Recent articles noted that Mercer County and the state pays per person to house eligible prisoners in community residential programs. According to the State of New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC), the state awards contracts with private and non-profit agencies.  Bo Robinson center is a 982- bed facility.