Want To Keep Ex-Cons Out Of Prison Again? Don’t Send Them To A Halfway House

While it seems like a helpful transition to society, new data shows that being dropped right on the street might be a more successful (but still not very successful) way to deal with people released from prison.

Want To Keep Ex-Cons Out Of Prison Again? Don’t Send Them To A Halfway House
Prison Bars via Shutterstock

After a long stint in prison, you might think that a stop in a halfway house–a place for inmates to take some time to collect themselves, wean off drugs, and get some therapy–would be beneficial. It certainly couldn’t be any worse than just depositing inmates back on the street. Except it is.


According to a study conducted by the Pennsylvania Corrections Department, inmates placed in halfway houses have a better chance (67%) of ending up back in prison within a three-year period than inmates sent straight to the streets (60%). From the New York Times:

The study examined 38 privately run and 14 state-run halfway houses. The results for both categories were discouraging, said Mr. Wetzel, the state corrections chief.

He said researchers had not pinpointed the reasons, but he said he suspected that some halfway houses were not providing adequate services.

“I did unannounced tours at every one,” Mr. Wetzel said. “Sometimes I felt there wasn’t enough structured activity, more idleness than I was comfortable with. We’re not paying to let inmates watch Jerry Springer.”

The reasons are unclear, though a spokesman for Community Education, which runs four halfway houses in Pennsylvania, suggests that part of the recidivism rate can be attributed to the fact that inmates in halfway houses are tracked more closely than other former prisoners, so they get caught more often when breaking the law.

Pennsylvania responded to the Corrections Department study in February by “drastically overhauling state contracts with the companies that run the 38 private halfway houses in Pennsylvania,” according to the New York Times.

In New Jersey, lawmakers are also working on the problem, albeit slowly. The Times explains:

The State Assembly is expected to approve a measure to establish a task force to study the safety, security and effectiveness of halfway houses. The task force would deliver a final report in 2015.

Lawmakers acknowledged that they had created the task force because they did not fully understand the system, which is more than two decades old.

“The task force bill is viewed as a starting point,” said the Assembly speaker, Sheila Y. Oliver, an Essex County Democrat. “Once we get that report, legislative fixes can then be considered.”

In other words, halfway houses will continue to be a problem for the foreseeable future. It’s not that they should be abolished altogether, but the companies running them need a serious shift in perspective. This op-ed from the president of a substance abuse treatment nonprofit on overhauling the infrastructure of halfway houses is good place to start.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more