A new report from Pennsylvania, reported in the New York Times, reveals that prisoners paroled to halfway houses are returning to prison at a higher rate than those being paroled to the streets, further validation that traditional rehabilitation strategies are failures, often making the problems worse.
“The federal government and states across the country have spent billions of dollars in recent years on sprawling, privately run halfway houses, which are supposed to save money and rehabilitate inmates more effectively than prisons do.
“But now, a groundbreaking study by officials in Pennsylvania is casting serious doubt on the halfway-house model, concluding that inmates who spent time in these facilities were more likely to return to crime than inmates who were released directly to the street.
“The findings startled the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett, which responded last month by drastically overhauling state contracts with the companies that run the 38 private halfway houses in Pennsylvania. The system costs more than $110 million annually.
“Pennsylvania’s corrections secretary, John E. Wetzel, who oversaw the study, called the system “an abject failure.”
“The focus has been on filling up beds,” Mr. Wetzel said in an interview. “It hasn’t been on producing good outcomes.”
“The state now plans to link payments to the companies to their success at rehabilitating the thousands of inmates who go through halfway houses in Pennsylvania annually.
“Correctional experts said the move by Mr. Corbett, a Republican, made Pennsylvania a prominent voice in the national debate over whether new correctional strategies, including halfway houses, lowered recidivism rates and cut ballooning prison budgets.
“By contrast, New Jersey, which has also been a leader in the halfway-house movement, has moved far more slowly to revamp its system, even though senior New Jersey lawmakers acknowledge that it is as troubled as Pennsylvania’s.
“The same company, Community Education Centers, is the biggest provider of halfway houses in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican, has been a vocal supporter of Community Education. Until November, his close friend and political adviser William J. Palatucci was a senior executive at the company.
“Mr. Christie’s chief spokesman, Michael Drewniak, said it was not proper to compare the systems in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“I have no interest in assisting The New York Times if it is cherry-picking facts and figures, drawing conclusions from a Pennsylvania study and applying them erroneously to this state,” Mr. Drewniak said.
“But the Pennsylvania study was so conclusive that it dismayed even a criminologist who serves on Community Education’s board of directors.
“The criminologist, Prof. Edward Latessa of the University of Cincinnati, said the study confirmed his own research on the Pennsylvania system, which has about 4,500 beds.
“We looked at quality indicators in our study,” he said. “They were all poor. There were almost no positive results. I was shocked.”
“The federal government and many states have increasingly sought to cut spending on corrections by relying on privately run halfway houses, many of which are as large as prisons.
“Inmates can be paroled or sent toward the end of their sentences to these facilities, where per-bed costs are generally two-thirds those of prisons. The companies promise to give the residents therapy, drug treatment, job training and other services to help ease their transition back to society.
“The study by the Pennsylvania Corrections Department found that 67 percent of inmates sent to halfway houses were rearrested or sent back to prison within three years, compared with 60 percent of inmates who were released to the streets.”