Halfway Houses: An Inmate’s Perspective

Posted: March 30, 2013 in Reentry
Tags: , , , ,

I just read an interesting article by the New York Times, posted by Fairness Works, titled “Halfway Houses don’t Reduce Recidivism. I find this to be a very interesting article and insightful as well. What I would have liked to have seen or read is the perspective of the people that have to go to them.

The halfway house, from the perspective of inmates, is a bargaining tool that is used to manage behavior while in prison. One of the things that all federal prisoners look forward to is at least 6 months in the halfway house. Why? Because this is the closest that they are going to get to early release. So although halfway houses may not reduce recidivism it does a hell of a job in managing institutional behavior. I use the word manage and not change as the order of the day in prison has everything to do with management and control and nothing to do with change and transformation.

The tool is very effective while the inmates are still incarcerated but what gets lost in translation and explanation is that the halfway house is not the same as being released. There are different levels of security within the federal system, as within other state systems, with ADX (the supermax in Colorado) being the highest and the halfway house being the lowest. The levels in the federal system range from ADX which is underground, USP ( United States Penitentiaries) which are behind walls, FCI (Federal Correctional Institutions) which are your medium security institutions behind two fences, Low security (where there is one fence), and Camp facilities that have no fences. The halfway houses are community correction facilities and are just outside extensions of the other institutions.

What is unique about these halfway houses is that no matter what your in-house custody is, when it is time for one to go to the halfway house they leave from whatever institution that they were in. What makes this ironic is that in order to go from one security level to the next, within the institutions, there are certain steps, guidelines and procedures that one has to go through. So in contrast it is not foreign to have within a halfway house guys that have done time at various levels of institutions where the mentality to exist is different in every way you can imagine.

I have a friend that did 5 years in ADX, where he spent 24 hours a day locked in a cell and slept on a concrete bed, who when he finally was able to leave ADX came to a USP that I was in and for one week I literally didn’t recognize him. This is someone who I knew and grew up with on the outside. So imagine a person leaving this institution and going to a halfway house.  So out of touch with reality.

There have been reports of guys that have said that, for whatever reasons, they don’t want to go to the halfway house and when they refuse they are written up for refusing programs. With this write up they lose good days and half to spend more time in prison. Every time that they refuse they lose good days. So guys are forced to go to places that they don’t want to go or be at. One of the things that most guys get confused is that the halfway house is another extension of the other institutions and therefore they are not on parole. So when they do commit any infractions they are dealt with as if they are still incarcerated. Which often means being sent back to prison to serve out the penalty for that infraction and not for a new case. So with that being said it seems that the halfway houses don’t work.

Another thing about the halfway houses is that if an inmate wants to release to another state, to have a fresh start over, often they can’t do that. So now the inmate is sent back to a community that he no longer wants to be a part of where there is a greater chance for recidivism.  But what is outrageous is that there is nothing that says that an inmate can not relocate but they just cannot go to the halfway house in the desired state. At the time that is most needed for a new start inmates are often denied that. So what can be expected if the inmate goes back to a place they don’t want to return to and have to confront issues, friends and often family that can be problematic. Issues that can contribute to recidivism.

Another thing that makes it hard for these places to be effective is that there are not enough halfway houses to serve the amount of inmates that are being released from prison. For instance in my home town, DC, there is only one halfway house. If there is no room in that halfway house I could be sent to another halfway house as far as Baltimore, which is 45 minutes driving from DC. While in the halfway house I am required to get a job. What is the incentive in getting a job that I can’t keep? I live in DC, a job in Baltimore, MD without transportation is a burden. But if I don’t get a job I am sent back to prison, not for a new offence but for not being able to do what most of the American population, who has never been to prison, choose not to do, work in a place that is not convenient to the proximity of where they live. If I get a job in DC, which is possible, I must be able to travel back and forth between DC and MD. I cannot drive while in the halfway house so I have to take the train which costs $20 one way. So that is $40 a day and roughly $200 a week. This doesn’t include the cost of %25 of my check to cover for halfway house fees. Even if I am released from the halfway house early I still have to pay that co fee of 25% of my check until I am officially released from the halfway house. So in essence I am paying for a bed that someone else is using and if he leaves early there are now two guys paying for the same bed that neither one of them is even occupying.

There are so many other flaws that can be discussed about the halfway house.  My point is that while some play politics others’ lives are at stake and public safety is being jeopardized, on many levels. Inmates are being set up to fail and many don’t even know it. I suggest that we take a good look at this issue and get the facts as to why some of these failures occur. There are so many different factors and they need to be looked at and hopefully one day soon addressed.

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Comments
  1. RJ says:

    I echo similar concerns for a family member who is incarcerated in a New York State system and what will be his outlook upon his release in 15 months. Will he be sent to a halfway house in NYC although he has no family living in the state or can he be transferred to a halfway house in Philadelphia?

    • RJ to answer your question about the halfway house. He can have his halfway house transferred to the state where he has family although I have seen, within the federal system, that they make guys go to the halfway house in the state that they were arrested in. The reason being is that they halfway house, community correction centers, are just another extension of the prison system. They are the lowest level institution. Most guys think that being in the halfway house is to be free or at home and they often find themselves back for breaking rules that are, as crazy as it may sound, rules that are similar to the rules of higher security prisons. When this happens they are sent back to the prison that they came from and are made to sit there until the halfway house term is up. Once this term is up, usually 6 months, they are release to freedom where they have to meet with their parole officers and at this time they are given their conditions of parole.

      So it is best if this family member begins the paperwork of transferring their paper work to the new state now. One thing that is helpful is to present a letter to the the counselor showing that they will be living at that address. It is good to contact the parole department in the state in which they are going to find out if they will be willing to accept this person. Pa. is strict in that regards due to the death of a state trooper in Harrisburg a few years ago. A parolee from another state killed him and Pa. change their policy on out of state parolee, violent offenders that is. But it is good to be proactive now and not wait until the end.

      Once this person begins the process it is easier to get all the necessary information that is needed to make a smoother transition back to society. As far a Philadelphia it should be easier to go to a state halfway house opposed to a federal halfway house. I think that they are spread out throughout the state, I do know of one that is in Chester Pa. The point that I am making is to start the process now.

      As far as some of the other things that you further mentioned. This thing called the penal system is vicious and once a person is caught up within it they are affected for life. One of the most powerful things that your son has going for him is a parent that cares. That is one of the most important keys to this things. I put together a program called the Reconstruct Program that I hope to some day get off the ground as it is a program that I know deals with, effectively, with the issues at hand, mainly with youthful offenders. Having experienced it myself I have the first hand knowledge that it takes to understand what many go through, post, during and after.

      One of the main components of this program is the importance of relationships, healthy ones. It was a relationship that got him in this jam. Relationships that are negative start the ball to rolling. It may have been a direct relationship or the lack of one. So it is good to build a relationship that is healthy and defined by him.

      There are other aspects that I would like to touch on but I am out of time at the moment but I would like to continue in this conversation. I will further comment on some other thoughts that I have about the current situation that you are going through later on ion the day.

      Talib

  2. Lady says:

    So my boyfriend is being released soon & was told what halfway house he was going to. 8 days before his release he is told that he can’t they can’t take him there and a halfway house he was at before have no beds. Well come to find out his friend is being released 5days after him to that halfway house, while he has to reside at one in another province. He was arrested in his home town but is being kept closer to the prison he was at. I wrote the parole board and so has he also he is putting in for a transfer soon as he get to his placement. Is there anything else we can do? I find they keep messing with him for nothing when he has been being such a good guy. They can send you back for nothing its sickings me.

  3. Christine Todd says:

    You are correct about everything you said about halfway houses. I am currently residing in a halfway house and I am being subjected to discrimination as well as sexual harassment. I am a female and had never been in trouble before. I spent 7 months in federal prison and I wish I had denied my halfway house time. Its much worse than prison. I am currently seeking help from an attorney if anyone knows someone. I came in with a positive attitude, ready to start my life over. Now I’m constantly depressed and feel hopeless. I have asked to go speak to a therapist, outside the facility since I don’t trust the staff, but they said no. This is the most horrible experience I’ve ever had and I feel like because I’m an inmate, nobody cares. There is no help. I have written the regional office as well as the proper people in Washington. I have not received ant return communication at all. I’m at a loss at this point. I recently contacted the ACLU and asked for a complaint form. I have gone to bed crying due to the harassment and the frustration that I must give these people 25% of my checkto have gross ccomments made to me and to be fed well below the proper caloric intake if an adult female. If anyone has any information on what I can do, I would appreciate it.

    • Christine,

      Sorry to hear of your plight. I know that it must be tough and trying experience. I think that, what you explain here, this is the case in most places. I have heard many stories about the set up of many of these places. None of which are that pleasing and encouraging.

      If I may just offer some advice that you can implement right now. I think that the attitude that you came in with, positive, is the attitude that you should keep. I know that it is hard to keep a positive outlook when you are in a situation such as this one, but there is one thing to be grateful for, your freedom. Even though it is limited. You are in a position to actually do something and change what is going on around you. I know that it is rough but it is not worse than prison.

      Starting over is never easy. It does not matter if you are doing so from a release from prison, rehab or just moving to another state. You have to stay “proactive” and “positive” about this transition. At least to the best of your ability. If you are being physically harmed and harassed you have the same right as any other civilian. That means taking the appropiate legal recourse needed.

      This period will not last long, 6 months, and you will be on your own. I know that it is hard but think of the women that you left behind, that were friends/associates, that have many more years to go before the get to a halfway house. Let this be something to motivate you to keep moving forward.

      Good luck!

      • Shilah Martinez says:

        I’m looking for any ideas to make these situations better. Extra training, better structures and processes and proper support for people needing help getting back into the work environment. I am looking to start a program for people who are transitioning back into a successful life.

      • Shilah

        How do you make the situation better at the halfway houses? There are a lot of things that can be done but the question becomes who is going to do it. Or at least attempt to make some of these changes.

        One thing that I have noticed is that does not work is the partnership between the halfway houses and the prisons that send people to them. If the government has been entrusted to deal with crime and punishment they can not take the most crucial part of the process (the release) and turn it over to a private entity that is concerned with profit.

        The way that it works is counter-productive to the reentry process in that there is no consistency in the way that the system is designed, from the inside to the outside. So there has to be uniformity between the two agencies. I have sat in reentry meetings, where they bring in people from the outside halfway house to discuss the affairs of the halfway house. Often times the people in the halfway house never receive the treatment plans of the returning person. Or, they release plan is not conducive to the time that is to be spent in the halfway house. So, there needs to be uniformity between the two agencies.

        I believe that the halfway house need to be set up as a Job Corp/Job Training site. Since the halfway is just an extension of the penal system (community correction centers) and one is not actually released the programs in the halfway house have to be designed to gradually reintegrate one back into society. Often the way that it works is like this. One comes there and the first week they are not allowed out the halfway house. The next week they can go and look for jobs. They give them a certain amount of time to do so. To violate this time will but one at risk of being sent back to prison. This is not feasible for someone, such as myself, who has been locked up over two decades. The city that I left in 1993 is not the same city that I hope to one day return to. From what I understand everyone is treated the same in the halfway house. The process of looking for work can not be just left up to the person looking for work.

        After one finds a job (there is a lot of pressure to find this job due to the cost of the bed that is being occupied. One is charged 25% of their check for the bed) they are allowed to go on home passes. It starts from hours to weekends. After a few weekends one is given home confinement status. Where they are given a ankle bracelet and released to an address.

        There are many flaws in this way of operation. One is that the person still has to pay for the bed, whether they sleep in it or not. So, it is very well common for 5 or 6 people to be paying for the same bed, although none of them actually sleep in the bed. The whole time that I am required to stay in the halfway house I would be required to pay for a bed although I no longer sleep in the bed. So the push is to get guys jobs, for that reason. The push needs to be on job training so that the guys that get the job has the right job.

        It makes no sense for me to work at a place, let alone look at a place for work, if I don’t have the job training needed go that job. There needs to be a system of extensive job training and classes geared towards setting people up with the right jobs.

        Substance abuse is another issue that is big. The programs that they have in place only serve the need of being able to say that “we have a program in place.” Yet, these programs are not successful. 95% of the guys that return to prison for halfway house infractions do so due to alcohol and drug use. Some of them are not out 24 hours and already back to using drugs. The prison has an obligation and duty to let the halfway house know that the person coming has an extensive history of drug and alcohol abuse. The problem is that they never inform them of these issues. Why? Because they have never, themselves, treated the issue of addiction with them. Another example of the lack of uniformity between the two agencies.

        A halfway house should be set up as a residential center where there are responsibilities and duties for those that live there. It should not be about money. I know that it takes money to run one but there are ways to cut cost where it runs and operates itself. It may be a good idea to have those that live there actually re-invest in the center. Where they have to keep the grounds, do maintenance work. Speaking of which, most of the job in prison are labor orientated. These are jobs that the men are accustomed to. These are the jobs that guys look forward to going home and doing.

        Some of these places need to have an ex-offender element to their programs. There is no better example than to see one who has been through these struggles before striving and successful. Often the staff at these places what to orchestrate things as if it is a prison setting. They have these rules and regulations that remind one of being in prison. So many of the guys buck the system in place. It is hard to comprehend the idea of being outside yet still treated like a prisoner. Due to the training that may of the staff receive that is how may people feel in the halfway house. That would be hard to adjust to for most people, myself included.

        There are so many things that I can point out. I would like to hear what ideas you had/have to make what you want to do successful. Another thing that is important to know is the reasons for wanting to take on such a task. I have a invested interest in this topic because hopefully I will be placed in one of these setting. I would like to maximize the experience.

        If I can be of any more use please feel free to contact me.

      • Shilah,

        How do you make the situation better at the halfway houses? There are a lot of things that can be done but the question becomes who is going to do it. Or at least attempt to make some of these changes.

        One thing that I have noticed is that does not work is the partnership between the halfway houses and the prisons that send people to them. If the government has been entrusted to deal with crime and punishment they can not take the most crucial part of the process (the release) and turn it over to a private entity that is concerned with profit.

        The way that it works is counter-productive to the reentry process in that there is no consistency in the way that the system is designed, from the inside to the outside. So there has to be uniformity between the two agencies. I have sat in reentry meetings, where they bring in people from the outside halfway house to discuss the affairs of the halfway house. Often times the people in the halfway house never receive the treatment plans of the returning person. Or, they release plan is not conducive to the time that is to be spent in the halfway house. So, there needs to be uniformity between the two agencies.

        I believe that the halfway house need to be set up as a Job Corp/Job Training site. Since the halfway is just an extension of the penal system (community correction centers) and one is not actually released the programs in the halfway house have to be designed to gradually reintegrate one back into society. Often the way that it works is like this. One comes there and the first week they are not allowed out the halfway house. The next week they can go and look for jobs. They give them a certain amount of time to do so. To violate this time will but one at risk of being sent back to prison. This is not feasible for someone, such as myself, who has been locked up over two decades. The city that I left in 1993 is not the same city that I hope to one day return to. From what I understand everyone is treated the same in the halfway house. The process of looking for work can not be just left up to the person looking for work.

        After one finds a job (there is a lot of pressure to find this job due to the cost of the bed that is being occupied. One is charged 25% of their check for the bed) they are allowed to go on home passes. It starts from hours to weekends. After a few weekends one is given home confinement status. Where they are given a ankle bracelet and released to an address.

        There are many flaws in this way of operation. One is that the person still has to pay for the bed, whether they sleep in it or not. So, it is very well common for 5 or 6 people to be paying for the same bed, although none of them actually sleep in the bed. The whole time that I am required to stay in the halfway house I would be required to pay for a bed although I no longer sleep in the bed. So the push is to get guys jobs, for that reason. The push needs to be on job training so that the guys that get the job has the right job.

        It makes no sense for me to work at a place, let alone look at a place for work, if I don’t have the job training needed go that job. There needs to be a system of extensive job training and classes geared towards setting people up with the right jobs.

        Substance abuse is another issue that is big. The programs that they have in place only serve the need of being able to say that “we have a program in place.” Yet, these programs are not successful. 95% of the guys that return to prison for halfway house infractions do so due to alcohol and drug use. Some of them are not out 24 hours and already back to using drugs. The prison has an obligation and duty to let the halfway house know that the person coming has an extensive history of drug and alcohol abuse. The problem is that they never inform them of these issues. Why? Because they have never, themselves, treated the issue of addiction with them. Another example of the lack of uniformity between the two agencies.

        A halfway house should be set up as a residential center where there are responsibilities and duties for those that live there. It should not be about money. I know that it takes money to run one but there are ways to cut cost where it runs and operates itself. It may be a good idea to have those that live there actually re-invest in the center. Where they have to keep the grounds, do maintenance work. Speaking of which, most of the job in prison are labor orientated. These are jobs that the men are accustomed to. These are the jobs that guys look forward to going home and doing.

        Some of these places need to have an ex-offender element to their programs. There is no better example than to see one who has been through these struggles before striving and successful. Often the staff at these places what to orchestrate things as if it is a prison setting. They have these rules and regulations that remind one of being in prison. So many of the guys buck the system in place. It is hard to comprehend the idea of being outside yet still treated like a prisoner. Due to the training that may of the staff receive that is how may people feel in the halfway house. That would be hard to adjust to for most people, myself included.

        There are so many things that I can point out. I would like to hear what ideas you had/have to make what you want to do successful. Another thing that is important to know is the reasons for wanting to take on such a task. I have a invested interest in this topic because hopefully I will be placed in one of these setting. I would like to maximize the experience.

        If I can be of any more help please feel free to contact me.

  4. sunshine says:

    I had a similar concern . My friend was denied parole twice but he was appro ve for a halfway house inConnecticut .most of his family has relocated to florida is there anyway he can be transfer from the halfway house in Connecticut to a halfway house in florida?

    • Re: Respond to the post

      The thing with halfway houses is that they are under institutional contract. In short they still abide by the rules of the state and federal guidelines. The halfway house is the lowest level of “institutions” that one can serve time in. They are called “Community Correction Centers” in some places. Regardless of the name what this means is that one is not actually free when released to the halfway house. The way that these centers are setup is that they service those that have been incarcerated in those states. This is important to remember when dealing with the halfway house. As many are often mislead as to what it means to be released to a halfway house.

      There are two options here. One, he can opt to not go to a halfway house and in this case he will have to option of being released to the address of his choice. As long as the state he wishes to be released to accepts him. This will keep him in prison an extra 6 months but he will have a better chance of going to the address of his choice.

      The other option is for him to go to the halfway house in Ct and begin the relocation to Fl while in the halfway house. This will mean that he will not have the same privilege of those that live in that state, i.e. he will not get the weekend home visits etc.

      I have seen guys in similar situations do it this way. There are some exceptions to this. That exception being if one is being released to a state that borders the state in which one is locked up. So, it would be easier to be released to a halfway house in NY or NJ if incarcerated in Ct.

      Hopefully this helps you out.

  5. lisa says:

    I spent 2 months in a halfway house. It was the worst, hardest time, I spent in the Federal System. I
    was treated like less than human. This halfway house was originally set up for just men. They had to add women so they put 6 beds in a room. This room has no fresh air. No natural light. The men had rooms of their own, a common room to watch tv, read ect. Women had none. we had to sit in our room from 4:00 TO 6;00 the next day. No access to a phone while the men had one they could use in there common room. The staff treated us less than human. It was demeaning, all of us were depressed. I have talked to more women that came out of this house, None not one thinks it was a healthy environment. We did contact the Federal System was told the BOP has no control over the halfway houses they are independent.
    There was no help in finding a job, they had classes, we attended, Which consist of listening to a lecture for 1 hour a week. They pushed us to find a job. Which would have helped, if they were encouraging at all. It was the worst experience through everything I have been through.

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