The Return of Halfway Houses?

Mark Kleiman, Angela Hawken and Ross Halperin argue for the return of a technological halfway house. The “house” would be any apartment but monitored:

For the transition from prison to life outside to be successful, it needs to be gradual. If someone needed to be locked up yesterday, he shouldn’t be completely at liberty today. And he shouldn’t be asked to go from utter dependency to total self-sufficiency in one flying leap. He needs both more control and more support. Neither alone is likely to do the job.

Of course, both control and support cost money. But so does prison. The trick is to start the re-entry process before what would otherwise have been the release date, so the money you spend in the community is balanced by the money you’re not spending on a cell.

…Start with housing. A substantial fraction of prison releasees go from a cellblock to living under a bridge: not a good way to start free life. Spend some of the money that would otherwise have financed a prison cell to rent a small, sparsely furnished efficiency apartment. In some ways, that apartment is still a cell and the offender still a prisoner. He can’t leave it or have visitors except as specifically permitted. The unit has cameras inside and is subject to search. But he doesn’t need guards, and doesn’t have to worry about prison gangs or inmate-on-inmate assault.

Drug testing and sanctions can avoid relapse to problem drug use; GPS monitoring can show where the re-entrant is all the time, which in turn makes it easy to know whether he’s at work when he’s supposed to be at work and at home when he’s supposed to be at home. This makes curfews enforceable and keeps him away from personal “no-go” zones (the street corner where he used to deal, the vicinity of his victim’s residence). GPS would also place him at the scene of any new crime he might commit, thus drastically reducing his chances of getting away with it and therefore his willingness to take the gamble.

The apartment functions as a prison without bars.

I appreciate the idea but worry about how many people will end up monitored and for how long. In one way, the problem today is too much monitoring. The easier access to online databases, for example, means that today an arrest record follows one for life. Ten percent of all non-incarcerated men have a felony conviction (even larger numbers have an arrest record). Among blacks, 25% of non-incarcerated men have a felony conviction. Most importantly, an arrest, let alone a felony conviction, makes it very difficult to get a job or in some cases even an apartment.

Ban the box laws, which restrict some kinds of background checks, may be useful. There is a kind of prisoner’s dilemma for background checks. It makes sense for every firm to do a background check (especially when they are so cheap) but when all firms do background checks former felons cannot reintegrate into society and crime ends up being higher than it would be if fewer firms did background checks.


Ban the box laws, which restrict some kinds of background checks, may be useful.

Doesn't seem to be very "libertarian." When it comes down to liberty vs. Diversity, which is more important?

Well supporting diversify signals high status while libertariansim signals undersexed male. Which do you think will win out?

Ban the box laws, which restrict some kinds of background checks, may be useful. There is a kind of prisoner’s dilemma for background checks. It makes sense for every firm to do a background check (especially when they are so cheap) but when all firms do background checks former felons cannot reintegrate into society and crime ends up being higher than it would be if fewer firms did background checks.

It wouldn't create any more jobs, it would just make it harder for employers to differentiate between criminals and the law abiding, though I suppose a criminal is more likely to resort to crime if he can't find a job. Liberalism is freedom for aggression...

My suggestion, to be done after immigration is ended and the minimum wage is raised, and ideally in a homogenous state, is for the government to offer not-very-pleasant, less than minimum wage paying make work jobs to everyone who wants one, no one will be turned away. With this, no able bodied person will be able to claim he can't find a job.

Re: ...the government to offer not-very-pleasant, less than minimum wage paying make work jobs to everyone who wants one, no one will be turned away.

I would amend that to "jobs paying a very austere living wage" (which, yes, is going to be higher than the minimum wage). The could replace welfare for the able-bodied, reduce bureaucracy, and have the side benefit of forcing low wage employers to increase wages as well.

That's essentially the Australian school MMT employer of last resort proposal. With the difference that the wage is adjustable for monetary policy reasons.

An austere living wage is not higher than minimum wage unless you are assuming that the vast majority of the world is living on below-living wage (an impossibility).

Since the minimum wage would have been raised "below minimum wage" will be at about what the minimum wage is now. The jobs can't pay too much because since they will be "make work," and a net drain on the government I'll want as few people to take them as possible. A separate jobs program for regular people will offer better paying jobs to combat unemployment if necessary.

The jobs are not "make work" unless you desire forest fires, pollution, litter everywhere you go, sewage in the streets, etc.

See FDR's 1935 SotU:

FDR set the requirement that all the jobs be building or restoring capital assets and that would over time pay for itself.

And see especially the activities of the CCC in the 30s, which included the planting of a billion trees to creating the foundation of the ski industry and all those other sports that common people play and enjoy in the billions dollar sports industry.

"for the government to offer not-very-pleasant, less than minimum wage paying make work jobs to everyone who wants one, no one will be turned away. With this, no able bodied person will be able to claim he can’t find a job."

Read FDR's 1935 SotU:

You have just described the core of The New Deal

The antonym of felon (i.e. convicted criminal) isn't law abiding. Plenty of people break laws and are never arrested or prosecuted. Bankers for example.

I love it how 'bankers' get blamed for applicants and mortgage brokers lying on application forms.

Independent mortgage brokers were an increasingly small part of the mortgage origination market as the pre-2008 bubble went on. Many many fraudulent mortgages were done with the knowledge or at the behest of bank employees -- often called bankers.

Then there was rep and warranty fraud in the synthetic debt market which was was all bankers.

That said, that many applicants and mortgage brokers also committed felonies and 99.9999% of them were not charged, just goes to my larger point.

I love it how "Catholics*" make excuses for amoral behavior because they think they profit from it in some way, and if it isn't expressly illegal then you shouldn't criticize or judge.

* j/k, everyone knows you're a Jew

I'm 'making excuses' for what?

Let's all guess privately how many times Art Deco has been baffled while handling a moral compass.

My sister worked in the industry for a large, public mortgage banker that went belly up. She reported to thee CEO. Believe me, they knew exactly what was going on.

>no able bodied person will be able to claim he can’t find a job.

Hmm, reminds me of my childhood in communist Czechoslovakia, guess your ilk never dies out.

Hyperbole much?

If people "won't" employ people who have a criminal record, then the price for that labor should go down until the market clears. There are a couple of hypothesis as to why this isn't happening:

a) Minimum wage laws get in the way. The obvious solution is to eliminate the minimum wage for felons.
b) The price of monitoring high risk employees is greater than their clearing price. In this case the only solution is to reduce unemployment such that the the clearing price of labor is higher than the monitoring cost. Note: this may be impossible.

If (b) doesn't work it *may* be in the interest of society to subsidize the employment of felons.

However, banning box laws is simply retarded. The process will simply be driven underground, and will only enrich the lawers who will launch lawsuit after lawsuit.


Or maybe employers fear that they'll be deemed responsible for any bad behavior by felons they employ, entirely independent of any actual increase in the amount of bad behavior vs non-felons.

That is, the market is distorted by litigiousness and fearmongering, such that the risk to employers is vastly greater than the risk to society.

Note this has nothing to do with any possible *direct* harm to the company by eg the employee stealing or breaking stuff. This is entirely about reputational effects and guilt by association.

Sure, it is possible that there are other costs to hiring felons this just makes it more likely that (b) is impossible. What follows then is subsidizing the employment of felons, but the amount of subsidy could be quite large. Note that there is an upper cap on the possible subsidy since the government could simply create make work project to clear the market.

If I'm a skilled X, but there is a high probability (based on prior evidence) that I'll burn down your shop, rape your daughter, or beat you to death with a crowbar, my market-clearing price is probably negative. I.e. you'll pay money (say to the government) to keep me away.

Alain:can you live independently on $15,000 per year? That's the minimum wage.

So, can you live on $10,000 or $5000 per year?

List your budget for cheap housing with cooking facilities with good public transit connecting you reliably and at all hours to a large number of employers and free clinics that are open at all hours of the day and night. Hmmm, where will you find that in the US.

a) I don't really care about your moralizing about how much other people should pay people. Not one iota. Go pay them yourself.

b) Recommend sensible policy, don't moralize.

"Recommend sensible policy, don’t moralize."

How bout we cross out "Small Steps to etc ..."
and go with that (^) for the slogan.

This is perfectly backward. The government has, with very little discrimination, labelled a significant portion of the population high-risk. Government action that ameliorates government action is in no way incompatible with libertarianism - the opposite actually.

Did you manage to read this one?

My guess was correct on the last one, ab, do try to keep up.

What kind of crazy person would have thought to discriminate against criminals before the government decided to label them? Libertarians rival SJWs with their craziness.

The government also, with very little discrimination, labelled a significant portion of the population "stupid," by denying them high school diplomas. And for simple reasons, like refusal to attend class or turn in homework. I propose that the government ameliorate the situation by paying reparations to high school dropouts. It's libertarianism doncha know?

Then let them do so, but that doesn't mean the government needs to provide the convenient database.

Wouldn't banning box laws potentially lead to increased racial discrimination. If a high percentage of applicants of one race have a prior criminal record but you couldn't be sure about a particular individual mighten you just refrain from employing anyone from this group. Or at the very least people will use the ideas they have of criminal looks/behavior/job history and then just exclude as many people as they can.

That's easy: just ban discrimination based on race.

>In one way the problem today is too much monitoring.

Yes. That would be in the completely imaginary way.

The problems with policing and incarceration and release include: All three phases of the process are set up to benefit the state jobholder, not the criminal/parolee and certainly not the safety of the public; the primary goal of the latter two functions is to hold down costs as low as possible to provide more money to the state jobholders who provide the first; and the ultimate goal of the third function is to pretend the first two never happened (Wipe all the records! Let felons vote! Let sex offenders teach kids! This is all so unfair to minorities!) so that we all act like everything is going swimmingly, and the money keeps flowing to the right places.

Too much monitoring? Dear God, man.

What do you mean that the process is set up to benefit the state job holder? I guess there is a bit of moral hazard in the fact that everybody who makes their living off the criminal justice system has an incentive to make the system larger and more expensive, but that's clearly not the core reason why our prison system is so awful. Besides, if that kind of incentive problem is what you're worried about, your main goal should be shutting down private prisons, which really do have quite the record of lobbying for harsher sentencing to boost their own profits.

And what's your problem with letting people who have served their time go about their lives without being treated as second class citizens?

The prison guard unions are far more powerful in most states than the private prison industry. Captured by contractors or captured by public employees, what the difference?


Great, an entire apartment complex filled with ex-cons, what could go wrong? And don't tell me you are going to put them in existing complexes, mixed in with regular residents.

A disaster waiting to happen.

Where do you think they're living now? Should ex-cons not be allowed to rent apartments?

I'm going to break my own rule about not responding to people who can't read and tell you to read.

A true shame that you broke your own rule under false pretenses - the commenter never said anything about 'tell[ing] you to read'.

And of course, you didn't actually answer the posed question - to wit, where do you think convicted individuals live currently?

As a landlord, ex-cons often are the best tenants. They are very polite, they pay in cash, and if you ask them no questions they will tell you no lies. But the problem is there are laws on the books that say if a landlord 'knows' of illegal activity on their premises (not active drug dealing or using either, but let's say the tenant is a dealer who does business elsewhere), or, accepts 'drug money' as rent, they can have their house forfeited. It's as Alex says, a difficult situation.

I for one am for making fewer crimes felonies. Nearly every law in American now has a felony penalty attached to it it seems... if you don't return your library book on seems it's a felony.,2050/

"Crack Dealer Only Tenant Landlord Can Depend On For Rent"

We're utilizing a scattered site housing model, so, in fact, there would not be an entire apartment complex filled with "ex-cons". Instead, we will place residents in existing complexes.

Remember, these are prisoners near the end of their sentences, so they are returning to their home neighborhood soon anyways. Isn't it better from the neighbor/community perspective if they return under careful supervision and with significant support in, say, January, than released with no monitoring, no support, and a 75%+ chance of failure in December. I think that's a pretty obvious public safety argument.

Ross, why does your article describe this system as hypothetical, when such a system already exists, in almost every detail you've described? Your article concludes with a call to try it, saying we can't know if it works until we do. But we do already have at least one graduated release program (the one I know about is Federal). It uses, btw, congregate housing, so, yes, an entire apartment building full of (not ex, but current) convicts.

Do you not know about this?

Goffman's "On the Run" briefly describes a halfway house--bribery allowed some inmates to skip out after evening roll call. I recommend the book, particularly for the moral dilemmas faced by the people who are related to or friends with or living with those subject to the justice system.

Hmmm, this is a tough issue. Obviously it's a lot better to have someone in this sort of monitored semi-prison state than it is to have them in a real prison, but doing this to people who have made it out of prison is outrageous. I of course support giving ex-prisoners access to housing and such for a while after getting out, but the home cameras and tagging and such is horrifying.

From the article, it did say: "the trick is to start the re-entry process before what would otherwise have been the release date"

So basically a year before your sentence is up you get to live in the halfway house, which is kind of semi-prison, then you can more easily transition to not being monitored at all.

To me, it seems fairly reasonable. Think of it as a new and better kind of parole.

Ban the box laws, which restrict some kinds of background checks, may be useful. There is a kind of prisoner’s dilemma for background checks. It makes sense for every firm to do a background check (especially when they are so cheap) but when all firms do background checks former felons cannot reintegrate into society and crime ends up being higher than it would be if fewer firms did background checks.

Sane, civilized jurisdictions run a system like this: for any felony that doesn't earn you jail time your record runs for a year after you complete sentence and then is wiped. For any crime that earns you up to three years in jail, the sentence stays on your record five years and is wiped. Any crime that earns you more than three years in jail is never wiped. OK, it wouldn't work well when you have guys doing twenty years for stealing a slice of pizza under three strikes, but what sort of fruitcakes would implement a law like three strikes anyway?

This makes sense or something like it. The philosophical problem is how hard it is to put nuance on the law books. It seems obvious that some felonies are worse than others, some far worse, and thus should be treated differently in terms of your 'permanent record'. But how to get nuance/common sense on the books I have no idea.

People victimized by routine criminal activity and people in safe neighborhoods who none the less emphathize.

"Sane, civilized jurisdictions"

Imaginary jurisdictions you mean.

Not the US jurisdiction that's for sure

Czech legal system is far from sanity and civilisation in many regards, yet records for lesser crimes are expunged in a described way. Also, no three strikes or mandatory incarceration for possession of few joints.

Three strikes is a really, really good law. It puts away habitual offenders.

Is this the worst troll ever? Three strikes is a miserable law. There isn't a single person in the United States who hasn't committed three felonies, let alone lesser crimes.

Maybe he should have said it puts really nasty and dangerous people behind bars. Your point about the ridiculous and unjust over criminalization of comparatively harmless behavior is worth considering, and I'm sure you can find tragic anecdotes, but these are exceptional cases (at least as applied to the three strikes issue). We're a lot safer than in the past for two reasons: (1) we're older (2) we're locking up a lot more scumbags. I'm willing to give up #2 if you're willing to buy me a really expensive house in an elite gated community. And buy my daughters similar homes when they grow up. Deal?

There isn’t a single person in the United States who hasn’t committed three felonies, let alone lesser crimes.

You must have an interesting circle of friends.

"Three Strikes" laws are popular among legislators who cannot make sense of formulae which would add a percentage to a sentence based on criminal history. Either that, or they are popular among legislators who favor only policy adjustments which can be described in slogans.

It would only apply to you if you commit a felony crime after you've been convicted of two other felonies. It's pretty reasonable to me. I might consider reforming it to "prison untill you're 75," instead of life.

Evidently 'sane, civilized jurisdictions' nestle in the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind.

How about a pilot program at George Mason. We will even put up recruiting posters in maximum security prisons. But lest GMU soak up all the benefits let's make sure Tarroback's lawn service is all ex cons too. We could even have a chain gang come, supervised only be a social workerof course, and do it.

How many ex-cons can live in the same neighborhoods as upper middle class professors?

Why do they need to be supervised? Conceal carry is a constitutional right.

Halfway house isn't a bad idea, but budget and siting/NIMBY issues make it non-scalable. Graduated re-entry is designed to reproduce the benefits of the halfway house without the physical "house."

As to the objection to supervision, recall the first rule of policy analysis: "Compared to what?" If you were a prisoner, would you rather be in a cell or in an apartment? And from the perspective of the victims of potential future crimes, would someone who goes through a gradual decompression and has to earn his freedom be more dangerous or less dangerous than someone who is kept in a cage and then suddenly set free and left to his own devices?

Ah, the non-physical part wasn't quite clear to me. I have edited my post slightly.

"crime ends up being higher than it would be if fewer firms did background checks"

Crime has consistently gone down in the era of routine background checks.

There's no logic to suggest causation.

Seems to me this would be an area ripe for experimentation by private firms. As Dan D'Amico has noted, this can set up a moral hazard of paying firms to keep people in lock-up. But what if, instead, we could devise a system to pay private prison firms based on recidivism over some pre-defined window? A reinsurance market for profit clawbacks would provide additional discipline.

Please, just don't. Prisons and private sector does not mix well

Prisons and public sector unions don't mix well either, Moreno.

So, basically a halfway house is sort of a new type of minimum security prison, that is not really a prison, exactly, but more like a reform school for adults?

If you prohibit employers from asking if an applicant has a criminal record, shouldn't the employers be indemnified from lawsuits if that employee later commits a crime?

No. The purpose of a business is to be a honey-pot for ambulance chasers.

"The purpose of a business is to be a honey-pot for ambulance chasers."

lol you can't stop yourself, can you?

lol you must like a legal environment in which employers are at once forbidden to enquire into an employee's criminal record and liable if that employee commits a crime while on the job.

Alex, thanks for taking a look at our article.

We're specifically targeting a population that would otherwise be Graduated Reentry would mean an increase in liberty for the participant and a decrease in costs for the system. Also, a state corrections department running this program wouldn't have the authority to extend the length of stay in GR beyond the preexisting prison sentence.

What prevents community corrections agencies from applying this model to people who would otherwise be loosely monitored or not monitored at all ("net widening")? Money/budget: Although GR will be cost competitive with prison (cheaper once you factor in private employment and lower recidivism), it is many multiples more expensive than ordinary course community supervision. It's hard to see how cash-strapped and resource-constrained parole/probation departments could expand this model to that population.

Ross, we're already doing it, and it's not post-release, it's pre-release, so the prison system pays for it, not the department of probation.

Bill James made an interesting point in his True Crime book that the current legal system basically forces states to use horrible, monolithic nightmare prisons. If you use anything smaller, you can't give prisoners legally mandated access to a law library. If you give time off or easier conditions for good behavior, that's an intensifier of the sentence and the prisoner has all kinds of due process rights. (He's not endorsing the status quo -- quite the opposite. It's more of a "how we got here" observation.)

If I had the power to make only one reform, I'd try to enforce a gradation of punishment that was significantly kinder to well behaved and well socialized prisoners. It seems like that would both make prisons significantly less horrible and better acclimate the prisoners for a return to society. But I'm not sure that can be done in our current legal environment.

I'd take the weight machines out and install a track and maybe a few of those Nordic Tracks. It's impossible to look hard while on a Nordic Track.

By that logic, pink spandex plus ankle warmers has the potential to transform society.

MR turned into Living Marxism so gradually I didn't even notice.

A lot of kids with misdemeanors can't get jobs in certain professions like teaching or health care. When I worked in the steel mills, many felons worked the most dangerous and undesirable jobs. They were a rough bunch. People make decisions that affect them for the rest of their lives. How do you protect people from bad decisions? How long should those decisions follow them? Violent people need jobs with low interaction with others but productive behavior in society. Perhaps they could do coding at home.

Perhaps they could do coding at home.


There is a similar problem with Facebook, Youtube, etc. Those dumbasses from Oklahoma who made the racist video--they've just destroyed their career opportunities for life.

That they should be penalized for being stupid (or racist) I understand. But a life sentence isn't good for them or for society.

I'm sure they can get jobs at The Unz Review.

Life after incarceration is a problem without a solution. Ex-cons that can't get jobs or rent an apartment still need to eat and have a place to sleep out of the rain. Since it's now impossible for them to get gainful employment they must either live off of relatives, work in some form of black market activity or return to crime. That's it. The guys selling untaxed loosy cigarettes on the streets of Manhattan are ex-cons. Bureaucrats now have computers, which have infallible memories. No latter day Billy the KId can wander off to New Mexico to escape his record.

The US was formed under Christian principles but the Christians were Puritans and their form of Christianity didn't include the most important feature, forgiveness. There ain't any. Even miserable Asian despots like Saddam Hussein declared general amnesties for prisoners from time to time. Not the descendants of Cotton Mather and Ben Franklin. Once a bad guy, always a bad guy. Nobody can change. It's Puritan predestination.

It isn't so much monitoring by authorities but monitoring by the public that scares me. Authorities in the US can take action during your sentence, but the public always can. You can't escape the record.

I'm fairly bright. I'd rather emigrate to Europe than do minimum-wage work.

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