Rutgers-led Group Recommends Best Practice Guidelines for Halfway Houses in New Report

Rutgers-led Group Recommends Best Practice Guidelines for Halfway Houses in New Report

Nancy Wolff

Nancy Wolff, director of the Center for Behavior Health Services and Criminal Justice Research

A report issued today by a group of experts led by a Rutgers University corrections policy expert sets forth new best practice guidelines for how New Jersey’s agencies work with halfway houses, including the push for accountability and a rewards model based on performance. 

The report, “Halfway from Prison to the Community: From Current Practice to Best Practice,” includes 11 recommendations, the result of three roundtable discussions held at Rutgers by 19 educators, advocates, policymakers and corrections practitioners between August and November 2012. 

“When states contract out for such services, they should make absolutely clear what they expect those services to be and how they expect them to be performed. Then they should hold the residential reentry centers accountable, with rewards for meeting those standards and penalties, including termination, for failing to meet them,” said Nancy Wolff, a professor in the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy who assembled the group at Rutgers. 

Wolff is also the director of the Center for Behavior Health Services and Criminal Justice Research at Rutgers, which seeks to improve the welfare of people with mental illnesses and maximize their potential to lead rewarding lives. 

Residential reentry centers (RRCs), known as halfway houses in corrections circles, provide prison inmates nearing the ends of their sentences with places to live, counseling and treatment and supervision in a community setting prior to their release. They often provide help finding jobs, substance abuse counseling, and similar services. In recent decades, many states have contracted out such reentry services to private organizations, both for-profit and nonprofit.

The specific recommendations set forth in the new report are as follows: 

  • Coordinate RRCs into a reentry strategy for every person incarcerated. Most people sent to prison will get out eventually, and when they do, they need a plan for re-entry into society.
  • Offenders selected for transfer to RRCs should meet clearly defined eligibility criteria. 
  • Corrections officials should make use of the many available studies of successful reentry programs.
  • Corrections officials should create a reentry preparedness checklist for their colleagues and RRC staff to measure key skills and resources an inmate will need upon release, and then monitor the progress of inmates toward those skills and resources.
  • Professionalize the staff and operations of RRCs by using research evidence to guide the selection of assessment tools, programming and other services offered by RRCs.
  • Develop “prudent and informed” contracting strategies at the federal and state levels. Standards and expectations should be specific, and “a government oversight agency, such as the Office of the Comptroller, should be required to evaluate contract performance at least once every three years.” 
  • "Performance-based contracting should be the norm.” That is, contracts should make clear what the state expects for its money.
  • Current contracts should be monitored for accountability. The public, and local communities that host RRCs, should know about the performance of those RRCs.
  • Correctional agencies should form partnerships with universities to evaluate their policies and practices, train their staffs, and conduct research on best policies and practices.
  • There isn’t much research on the effectiveness of RRCs, and government agencies should fund such research by universities.

     The report was funded by the Langeloth Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Media Contact: Ken Branson
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