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Recidivism Performance Measures for Private Halfway Houses in Pennsylvania

Recidivism Performance Measures for Private Halfway Houses in Pennsylvania

by Alex Friedmann

In 2013, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) officials announced they would provide financial incentives to privately-operated community corrections facilities – halfway houses – that reduce the recidivism rates of offenders released from those facilities.

The unique initiative followed a DOC report that found high recidivism rates in the state, with prisoners released from halfway houses (most of which are privately-operated) having higher rates than those released directly from prison. For example, for 2010-11 releasees, the one-year overall recidivism rate was 40.5% for those paroled to a community corrections facility but only 32.7% for those released from prison.

An average recidivism rate based on data from the report was established as a baseline, and privately-operated community corrections facilities are required to meet the baseline rate within a certain range or risk losing their contracts. Those that achieve rates at least 10% lower than the baseline will receive a financial bonus of one percent of the contract amount.

“It’s not unreasonable for us to expect them to have an impact on crime, because that’s what we’re paying them to do,” said Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John E. Wetzel.

“We want to measure performance. We want quantifiable performance,” added Kristofer Bret Bucklen, director of the DOC’s Office of Planning, Research and Statistics.

The DOC’s community corrections contracts were rebid in 2013 to include the recidivism rate performance measure provisions. According to Bucklen, the initial performance measure period was based on recidivism data for an abbreviated three-month span from December 2013 to March 2014, while future periods will cover six-month spans.

Bucklen said the state’s approximately 40 privately-operated community corrections facilities achieved an average 16.4% reduction in recidivism – although this reflected a very modest decrease in recidivism rates, as the benchmark for the initial three-month period was 12.8%, which on average dropped to 10.7% (the performance measure benchmark for future six-month periods will be around 30%).

Nine of the facilities significantly reduced recidivism rates during the initial period and qualified to receive a contractual bonus; one facility significantly exceeded the benchmark and was placed on warning status. This indicates that given the proper incentives (financial bonuses) and disincentives (potential loss of contracts), private contractors can be motivated to meet specified standards. Future recidivism performance measures by the Pennsylvania DOC will demonstrate whether positive results are achieved on an ongoing basis.

However, one weakness of the DOC’s approach is that, according to Mr. Bucklen, recidivism rates are considered only for the benchmark periods (six months each after the initial period), but not cumulatively over longer periods of time. That is, one-year and three-year recidivism rates for privately-operated community corrections facilities are tracked but not considered for performance measure purposes. Thus, it’s possible that the long-term recidivism rates at such facilities may in fact be higher than the corresponding benchmarks for those time periods, if offenders released from private halfway houses recidivate at higher rates over an extended period of time, but the contractors would not be penalized.

The Pennsylvania DOC is the only known state prison system that has tied performance by contractors to recidivism rates.

Sources: “Recidivism Report 2013,” Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections, Bureau of Planning, Research and Statistics (2013); Wall Street Journal; Pennsylvania DOC


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