The federal government and states 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. 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, says the New York Times.
The findings startled the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett, which responded 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 Wetzel, who oversaw the study, called the system “an abject failure.” “The focus has been on filling up beds,” Wetzel said. “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. Corrections experts said Corbett’s move has made Pennsylvania a prominent voice in the national debate over whether halfway houses lowered recidivism rates and cut ballooning prison budgets. 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 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. The Times last year reported escapes, violence, drug use, and other problems at Community Education halfway houses in New Jersey.