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Colorado’s Halfway Houses Returning Half of Residents to Prison

by Keith Sanders

On July 9, 2022, the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) rescinded a new policy that barred parole officers from getting arrest warrants for people who walk away from one of the state’s halfway houses. The move was a bow to law enforcement officials like Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Shrader, who two weeks earlier had fired off a complaint to DOC Executive Director Dean Williams, calling the new policy “nothing short of a dereliction of DOC’s duty.”

It also shines a spotlight on the state’s 26 halfway houses, where some residents come from pretrial diversion, others are transitioning from prison to complete their sentence and a third group is there to satisfy a parole condition. Together they consumed nearly 16% of the state’s public safety budget – $87.7 million – in the year ending July 1, 2022.

Private firms operate most Colorado halfway houses, including 15 owned by just three companies: Montrose-based Advantage Treatment Centers Inc., Tennessee-based CoreCivic and the only nonprofit of the three, Lakewood-based Intervention, Inc. They, in turn, carry weight with local community corrections boards, to which the state cedes oversight.

“This local control gives facilities broad authority to establish rules and program requirements for individual halfway houses,” a September 2022 report by ProPublica pointed out, “creating a patchwork of policies across the state.”

Though the state stopped letting halfway houses collect rent from residents in July 2022, it did nothing about sometimes draconian rules that can result in a trip to prison. At Lakewood-based Intervention Community Corrections Services, for example, residents are barred from “possessing candles, gift cards, debit cards or cash.” They are also prevented from “having cell phones or driving,” which can make satisfying work requirements tricky.

One of those sent back to prison was Andrew Montano, 35. In January 2020, he admitted to leaving a bus stop to use a gas station restroom, for which he did not get prior approval from administrators at his CoreCivic halfway house near Denver. Later that day police arrested him and sent him back to prison. Montano finally paroled out in December of that year.

At another halfway house, Larimer County’s Community Corrections Facility in Fort Collins, Shannon Lucas reported her medication stolen and filed a complaint in November 2018. Instead of investigating the theft, though, administrators wrote up the 41-year-old for “medication misconduct.” Her sentence was then extended by a month.

Colorado established its community corrections system in 1974, with the admirable goal of reducing both prison overcrowding and recidivism rates by providing treatment, mental health services, job placement and housing to newly released prisoners. But a 2012 state law allows a resident to be expelled from a halfway house for “any reason or for no reason at all,” ProPublica found. That gives parole officers wide latitude to punish small rule infractions with a return to prison – despite a 2020 law downgrading halfway-house escape from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Now, out of every 100 individuals admitted into a Colorado halfway house, 26 will run afoul of the rules and return to prison. Another 14 will run away. Two or three more will commit a new crime during their residency and be reincarcerated.

And what of the 57 who complete their stay? Within two years, 22 of them – over 38.5% – will be re-incarcerated. At nearly 50%, Colorado’s three-year recidivism rate is also the highest in the country. What is the state doing to combat the problem?

Changing the definition of recidivism, of course.

Instead of a criminal charge, it is now defined as a criminal conviction. Thanks to that, the recidivism rate for ComCor, another halfway house operator, just fell from 41% to 3%. Since state funding is tied to such metrics, that ensures the flow of public funds continues. It doesn’t ensure that the state gets anything of value for the 6,000 nightly stays it buys each year in a halfway house. 

Additional sources: AP News, Local Today News, Pro Publica

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