In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Halfway Houses

  • Introduction
  • Definition of Halfway Houses
  • Theories
  • International Halfway Houses
  • Disproportionate Minority Contact
  • Juveniles Held in Custody
  • Reoffending
  • Prison Reform
  • Federal Bureau of Prisons
  • Staff
  • Nonprofit Organizations
  • Foundation Grants
  • Placement
  • Community Concerns
  • Critiques

Criminology Halfway Houses
Ayana Conway, Joshua R. Ruffin
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 July 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0284


In 2016 there were a total of 4,537,100 individuals under community supervision in the United States, which equated to 1 in every 55 adults. This number included individuals who resided in halfway houses. Two-thirds of ex-offenders often recidivate within three years after being released from prison. Halfway houses have served many released and soon-to-be released prisoners, with the intention of rehabilitating and preparing them for successful reintegration back into society. Having undergone several name changes, halfway houses have been present for centuries within the United States. Since its creation, the halfway house has served as a bridge between imprisonment and society, where offenders are discharged to designated community residences before being released back into society. These centers serve people who do not need the confinement of an institution, yet are not ready for independent community living. Originally, these centers were created to serve as an alternative to incarceration for target populations within the United States. The goal was to help participants become law-abiding citizens through transitional housing, thus decreasing recidivism. Typically, halfway houses collaborate with nonprofit organizations, human service agencies, and other community services to provide education, counseling, 24-hour rehabilitative and residential services, and the like. These centers place an increased responsibility on the individual to determine how to balance life after incarceration. The term halfway houses emerged in the 1950s after being referred to as transitional housing years before, and most recently as offender reentry centers in some circles. They play a major role in the process of former inmates reentering society. Since the 1950s there has been an increased interest in these facilities and their utilization. They gained prominence in the 1960s and 1970s after the emergence of the concept of “residential continuum.” Determining whether such centers have a positive effect on offenders’ reintegration into the community remains deeply contested. Traditionally and contemporarily, halfway houses are not always welcomed in neighborhoods, as local community members often fear an increase in crime. Few studies have provided data on the impact halfway houses make on communities, however. While this remains a dilemma for scholars studying halfway houses and their impact on the larger community, there are publications that have laid the foundation for further research. The focus of this article is on halfway houses that provide transitional housing rather than those facilities that provide longer-term or indefinite residency.

Definition of Halfway Houses

Halfway Houses are often referred to as community correctional centers or residential rehabilitation centers and serve as treatment programs for eligible offenders. These intermediate residences are based in neighborhoods, and they house adults or youths who agree to cooperate to share space, usually, in single-gender living quarters. Beha 1976 notes that populations can range from two to fifty residents. Grygier, et al. 1970 notes that the underlying premise is to adjust offenders’ attitudes and behaviors so that they comply with generally accepted societal values. Whether operated by for-profit or not-for-profit organizations, halfway houses are designed to help people transition into mainstream society after being discharged from correctional institutions, drug treatment centers, and psychiatric or other medical facilities. US Department of Justice 2016 calls halfway houses Residential Reentry Centers (RRCs). Contracts are issued by DOJ to both corporations and nonprofit agencies to provide structured, supervised environments as an alternative to incarceration for offenders that qualify, such as those with short sentences. Such centers also house people returning to the general public and offer supportive transition services after imprisonment. RRCs provide essential programs and services that help recently released ex-offenders as they readjust to life after imprisonment; pursue employment, housing, and fundamental resources; and strengthen relationships with family, friends, and support systems.

  • Beha, James A., II. 1976. Testing the functions and effect of the parole halfway house: One case study. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 67.3: 335–350.

    DOI: 10.2307/1142866

    Focuses on the expansion of halfway houses from conception through the 1970s. Looks at background data on residents, trends over time, general parolee and release populations, length of stay, and mode of termination.

  • Grygier, Tadeusz, Barbara Nease, and Carol Staples Anderson. 1970. An exploratory study of halfway houses. Crime & Delinquency 16.3: 280–291.

    DOI: 10.1177/001112877001600306

    An overview of halfway houses and their historical functions and philosophies in the United States. Methods of operation, evidence of effectiveness, financing, and suggestions for further research are discussed.

  • US Department of Justice. Bureau of Prisons Residential Reentry Centers assessment: Recommendations report. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, 2016.

    Describes the purpose and scope of Residential Reentry Centers, identifies areas for the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Prisons to improve both the resident experience and the RRC management processes, and makes recommendations for improvement.

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