Criminal Law

When Is a Prisoner Released to a Halfway House?

Towards the end of their sentences, inmates and parolees can be sent to halfway houses. These are also called community corrections centers or residential reentry centers. Halfway houses are supposed to help prisoners reenter society by providing supervision and transitional services. Some are run by government agencies or nonprofits, but many are large operations run by private companies.

Halfway-house programs are offered by federal, state and local penal systems. A person in a halfway house is still considered a prisoner.

Halfway Houses Offer Programming

Halfway houses have rules, treatment programs, work requirements and curfews. While in a halfway house, an inmate may not use drugs or drink alcohol. He or she must get permission before leaving the halfway house, and must participate in required programs. An inmate must look for a job. An inmate who fails to comply with the rules of a halfway house can be discharged and sent back to prison or jail.

Types of programing and services vary widely. While most halfway houses offer substance abuse programming and employment services, others also offer educational programs, cognitive therapy groups, financial counseling, life and parenting skills classes, anger management classes, behavior medication programs, spiritual programs, domestic violence counseling and programs for sex offenders.

Not All Prisoners Are Eligible

Residents typically stay one to six months, but some stay for as long as a year. During this time, prisoners must pay the halfway house a fee, usually equal to 25 percent of the prisoner’s gross income. Prisoners must also pay for their own medical care (other than drug treatment) and health insurance.

Some prisoners are not eligible. Before sending someone to a halfway house, authorities will look at the prisoner’s disciplinary record and participation in rehabilitative prison programs. A prisoner can refuse the option of transitioning to a halfway house, although there might be penalties for doing so.

How Effective Are Halfway Houses?

The federal government and the states have spent billions of dollars on halfway houses, assuming that they would cost less and cut down on recidivism. In general, placing a prisoner in a halfway house costs the government about two-thirds what it costs to keep that person in prison or in jail.

However, there seems to be little difference in recidivism. A Pennsylvania study released in 2013, for example, found that 67 percent of the inmates who came through the halfway-house system in that state were rearrested or sent back to prison within three years, compared with 60 percent of the inmates who were released directly to the streets.

Plus, a 2012 investigation by The New York Times uncovered halfway house problems in the New Jersey system that include high escape rates, gang activity, violence and drug use. As a result, federal, state and local penal systems are closely examining this option and demanding more accountability from both public and private operators of halfway houses.

Call a Criminal Lawyer

The law surrounding incarceration of prisoners in halfway houses toward the end of their sentences can be complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a criminal lawyer.

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