So-called “halfway houses” have long been used to control/house offenders. Dating back to the early 1800s in England and Ireland, halfway houses first began to appear in the U.S. around 1820, in Massachusetts. Initially, they were designed to help an offender “get back on their feet,” and were funded by non-profit organizations like the Salvation Army. At present, halfway houses are typically used as a “way station” for offenders coming out of prisons, but have also been used as an intermediate sanction for probationers. At their core, halfway houses are meant to be places where individuals can get back on their feet, “half-way” out of prison, while enjoying the support – and supervision – of trained personnel. In this way, halfway houses embody many of the contradictions of parole.
The International Halfway House Association breaks down halfway houses into four groups (for-profit, non-for-profit, state-funded, and federally-funded), along two dimensions (supportive and interventive). Halfway houses that serve only a minimal correctional function (functioning mainly as a residence for those reintegrating back into society) are generally labeled supportive. Interventive halfway houses, by contrast, typically offer multiple treatment modalities and may have up to 500 beds. Most halfway houses fall somewhere in the middle of these two poles.
Halfway House Success
Because of the great variability in halfway houses, researchers have found them difficult to assess. This is because it is difficult to make general statements about such a diverse group of facilities, and gathering a representative sample is difficult. Perhaps due to these research limitations, studies have found that halfway houses may increase recidivism, reduce recidivism, or have no effect one recidivism. When disaggregated by halfway house type, programs known to deploy evidence-based interventions have a stronger impact on recidivism. Systematic research on halfway houses may also be complicated by the different types of organization that operate and fund them. Depending on whether they are public or private, halfway houses may operate according to very different models of care, have different staffing requirements, and different levels of resources. Much like more formal correctional institutions, halfway houses may provide much-needed treatment services – or function as chaotic “no-man’s lands” that are hardly safer than many prisons.