State Comptroller Matthew Boxer released an audit last year that found that many halfway houses had lax security and that state inspections were lenient, if done at all.
The Christie administration also commissioned a three-year study on whether the halfway-house system helps inmates, and established a task force to coordinate a state effort to help inmates as they leave prisons.
Overall, New Jersey has about 3,500 beds in about two dozen halfway houses. The halfway-house population includes people serving time for murder, armed robbery, assault, and weapons possession, and the proportion of violent offenders in halfway houses is rising.
Community Education Centers, whose efforts have been championed by Christie, runs six large reentry centers, with a total of 1,900 beds for state inmates and parolees, along with others for county and federal inmates. Robert Mackey, a senior vice president at Community Education, said the company had excellent security and tried to prevent escapes by providing therapy and other services to discourage inmates from leaving.
The company told the newspaper it can't be held responsible for escapes by inmates who enter the system through its program but later escape from another halfway house. It said its escape rate was "staggeringly low."
"To focus on walkaways from halfway houses would be to report on only part of the story and not include the positive outcomes for the majority of offenders who complete a halfway house program without walking away," the company added in a statement to the newspaper.
The newspaper also reported Saturday that Community Education had ties to Christie and high-ranking lawmakers and got about $71 million from state and county agencies in the 2011 fiscal year, when roughly $105 million was spent overall.
The governor was a registered lobbyist for the company in 2000 and 2001 when he was a private lawyer, the newspaper said, citing disclosure reports that his law firm filed with the state.
Community Education and Christie aides said the governor did not lobby for the company.
Administration officials say the company has received no special treatment from them, noting that the firm had been "associated with public contracting in New Jersey going back no less than 18 years to the administration of Gov. James Florio and every governor, Democrat or Republican, since that time. ... The suggestion of favoritism is defeated by the demonstrable fact that none has occurred," Michael Drewniak, the governor's spokesman, told the newspaper.