If you run away from a halfway house, this is regarded as an “escape” that could carry the same felony charges as breaking out of prison. Under federal statutes, the convictions for an escape charge can be anywhere between two to five years. However, the length of the sentence can change according to the case.
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What is a Halfway House Used For?
Sometimes referred to as sober living houses, these are transitional homes for those recovering from drugs or alcohol. To some, this is a temporary step as they go back home. For others, it can be a long-term process as they get themselves back on their feet. On occasions, though, a court order can request that someone moves to a halfway house after treatment.
Types of Facilities
Halfway houses are often state-funded and provide a space for people coming out of incarceration and who underwent a drug treatment program during their incarceration.
State corrections departments, probation/parole offices, and the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) often contract with nonprofits and private companies to run these facilities. Most of these homes have a zero-tolerance approach to drugs and alcohol use. Also, they usually limit the amount of time people can stay and the number of people living at the house at any given time.
However, a “halfway house” is an umbrella term that can refer to different types of facilities, including:
- Sober living homes: while sometimes they receive incarcerated people, they’re not meant to serve as a transitional space between incarceration and reentry to society. Sober living homes accommodate anyone with a substance use disorder. They primarily act as transitional homes for patients leaving drug and alcohol rehab programs.
- Restitution centers: these are alternatives to traditional incarceration instead of prison or jail. Sometimes called residential correctional facilities, individuals can go here to serve their entire sentence. Most people are expected to work and surrender all their paychecks to be used for restitution fees, room and board, other debts, and most court-ordered fines. Usually, to leave this type of facility, you need a work-release form approved by a judge.
- Transitional housing: these are homes for people leaving prison who voluntarily choose to check into one of these homes. They’re not funded or contracted by the government. Instead, they’re usually non-profit or for-profit organizations that offer services that help people reenter society after serving prison or jail time.
Who Can Live There?
Most halfway houses don’t have restrictions about who can live there. Yet, as a rule of thumb, most people living there are alumni from some treatment programs. Everyone living in the house must remain sober while living there, and some even need residents to pass a drug screening and breathalyzer test performed by the halfway house staff.
Like in rehab, halfway houses also operate on strict rules and guidelines that help maintain the program’s effectiveness. Violating the rules can get someone expelled from a halfway house. The majority of these programs have rules like:
- Individuals must stay sober.
- Everyone must contribute to the house by doing chores.
- There’s no fighting or violence tolerated in the house.
- No stealing or destroying another resident’s property.
- Everyone must adhere to the curfew.
- Everyone must attend either 12-step meetings or another recovery meeting.
- Those without a job must interview for jobs.
Legal Ways to Leave a Halfway Home
Unlike leaving treatment against medical advice (AMA), leaving a halfway house can bring significant consequences. For those placed there after being released from prison, halfway home confinement has strict rules. Usually, these individuals leaving prison have a release date when they can leave the facility. Otherwise, they might suffer legal consequences.
Contrary to popular belief, halfway houses are carceral facilities. For the most part, people go to these facilities because it’s a mandatory condition of their release from prison. There’s complete surveillance, restrictions, and intense security in most of these houses.
There are legal ways to get out of a halfway house early. People can shorten their stay by proving they’re eligible for parole or home confinement. To do this, they have to show that they have:
- A home to go to
- A job waiting for them
- Transportation to and from that job
- Money to pay the daily fee for placement in the halfway house, whether they stay there or not
Additionally, lower-risk inmates who are not graduates of the substance abuse programs and have an approved home to go to upon their release may be considered an early release.
Halfway Houses by The Numbers
Every year, tens of thousands of people spend time in halfway houses. The federal government counts 154 active contracts with various residential reentry centers across the country. On any given day, there were 9,600 residents in these facilities.
Unfortunately, there’s no much information about state-run or state-funded facilities to understand the extent of their reach fully. A small study in 2012 found 527 community-based correctional facilities where 50% or more of the residents were regularly allowed to leave. However, these facilities don’t operate as traditional halfway houses.
Unfortunately, poor federal data collection doesn’t let us see the complete picture of halfway houses. The most recent data is still from 2012, and it remains unclear which facilities are which.
This may also be why conditions in halfway houses are often violent, abusive, and filled with neglect. Various interviews with residents, workers, and officials conducted for a 20212 New York Times report found that over 5,000 escaped. They also cited drug use, gang activity, and violence regularly occurring in the facilities.
The largest community education center (GEO Group) also found rampant drug abuse and gang violence in most halfway houses. The research group found similar issues in facilities in Colorado and California, pointing that this might be a national issue.
Now with the COVID-19 pandemic, halfway houses are facing even more difficulties. Poor conditions and management lead to increased cases, with most facilities reporting a handful of deaths and dozens of active cases.
Halfway houses are just as much a part of someone’s prison sentence as incarceration itself, but they are subject to much less scrutiny than prisons and jails. Lack of guidelines and monitoring make the reality of halfway houses somewhat gruesome.
Finding the Right Halfway House
Unlike sober living homes, halfway houses are state-funded programs that often carry a long waiting list and require a court order. This is not to say that there aren’t nonprofit halfway houses you can get into, but the waiting time can be extensive.
At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we have aftercare recovery programs to help you maintain sobriety, especially in the early recovery days. Our therapists can also help you find the right halfway house near you to continue to support your recovery journey.