Concerned about community safety, state closes three halfway houses

Citing concerns about community safety and financial difficulties, the Connecticut Department of Correction announced Friday it would terminate its contract with an embattled Norwalk agency to run three halfway houses in Norwalk and Waterbury, including a 20-bed program for women and children in Waterbury.

Norwalk Economic Opportunities NOW Inc., known as NEON, runs a 27-bed male work release program and an 18-bed female work release program in Norwalk, as well as a 20-bed women and children’s program in Waterbury.

The Department of Correction officials said supervision at the halfway houses wasn’t up to standard and they were concerned about public safety.

“The lack of contract compliance has a direct effect on community safety, therefore swift action is necessary to ensure the safe supervision of these offenders,” said Interim Correction Commissioner James Dzurenda.  “They will be placed in another facility, so that proper safety protocols are being maintained.”

The 45 offenders, including five women, two of whom have children, will move to other halfway houses, said Karen Martucci, acting director of external affairs for the Department of Correction.

“This shouldn’t be a problem at all,” Martucci said. “We have over 1,100 halfway house beds statewide.”

At the same time, the state Department of Social Services announced it would take a firmer hand in monitoring programs administered by NEON and could take steps to decertify it as a recipient of community block grants.

The Norwalk-based anti-poverty program has been plagued by scandal and financial mismanagement in recent months. Earlier this week, it shut down its Head Start program unexpectedly Monday and Tuesday and told many employees not to report to work, according to local media reports.

Six NEON board members have resigned since Sept. 23, including William Wescott, its former chairman.

NEON Acting President and CEO Chiquita Stephenson could not immediately be reached for comment.

Former NEON President and CEO Joseph E. Mann resigned in April 2012 after a U.S. government audit found the agency mismanaged $400,000 in federal money for Head Start.

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