New York Times Article: “A Halfway House Built on Exaggerated Claims” by Sam Dolnick

Dolnick reports that a $29 million contract to fund a halfway house for persons recently released from prison was awarded to a non-profit organization that has turned out to be less than reputable.

The organization has, according the report, “already had three addresses in Brooklyn” none of which have been locations conducive to helping the former inmates get back on their feet.

In addition, the organization has not provided many services to the residents and allowed them to engage in activities that are supposed to be banned at halfway houses.

In fact, Dolnick reports that the halfway house is so poorly managed that social workers have encouraged clients to move elsewhere.  In addition, a key leader at Federal Defenders–a non-profit organization providing legal services to federal inmates, stated that “the halfway house was ‘a big hindrance’ in integrating inmates back into society.”

While the article does not that there are mixed reviews of the halfway house in question, it goes on to cite several more instances of controversy surrounding other non-profit organizations providing halfway houses for former inmates.

Prison reform, which encompasses the transition from prison back into society, is a key issue facing our nation.  Recidivism rates remain high, and finding non-profit organizations to manage the transition through halfway houses and other means is a key component to bringing these rates down.  As the article points out, “the cost of a halfway house spot is generally about two-thirds that of a spot in a prison or jail.”

Government contracts, at the state and federal levels, must investigate the organizations receiving contracts and grants more closely to ensure that the services being provided to former inmates are helping address the issues rather than creating them.

At the same time, it is extremely sad and unfortunate that people will create organizations advertised as helpful, healing places, accept government contracts and money and then not provide the agreed upon services to those in need.

What seems clear is that a collaborative effort from multiple fronts is necessary to help former inmates transition back into society and, consequently, to reduce the recidivism rate.

Faith communities ought to consider what role they might be able to play in addressing the conjoining issues of prison reform and inmates transition back into society. An in-the-works documentary by the Baptist Center for Ethics (EthicsDaily.com) will explore the role faith communities are currently playing in addressing this important issue facing our nation.

The full-text of Dolnick’s article can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/13/nyregion/at-federal-halfway-house-in-brooklyn-a-dubious-operator.html?pagewanted=2&ref=todayspaper

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