Sunday, August 15, 2010

Backlash against new prisoner reentry housing

Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman reports on the allegedly muddled implementation and backlash against a new program to provide housing for long-time inmates who are eligible for parole but had no place to go ("Housing program for ex-cons not working as intended, some lawmakers say," Aug. 15). The story opens:
As Texas prison programs go, this one was tiny. Just a few hundred ex-cons would be eligible for housing vouchers those who had been approved for parole but were stuck behind bars because they had no place to live, either because their families didn't want them or they had no place to go.

It was also supposed to save taxpayers money, since the housing would cost less than a $47-a-day prison bed.

Instead, state records show, the 8-month-old Temporary Housing Assistance Program appears to have accomplished just the opposite. In some cases, parolees have been moved into state-rented homes from less expensive halfway houses. ...

Earlier this month, 98 parolees were living in taxpayer-paid housing across the state — most of them in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin. Their crimes included homicide, aggravated robbery, failure to register as a sex offender, driving while intoxicated, drug possession and escape.

One home in Dallas housed eight paroled felons — six from halfway houses, two just out of prison — until the author of the law demanded they be removed, officials said. In Houston, plans to house several felons at a site just a few blocks from an elementary school were scratched after neighbors complained.

"This program was not being operated as I intended, not even close," said an angry state Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, the author of the law. "I've told them to get it fixed, and get it fixed now.
Certainly nobody intended this statute to authorized essentially unsupervised halfway houses, but it was probably inevitable there'd be some NIMBY backlash when it was implemented, no matter what. Humorously (to me, anyway - I'm sure not to them), Ward's story also includes grumbling from prison officials who defended the program and think legislators are butting into their business:
The controversy is the latest of a string in which legislators have publicly challenged how the state corrections system is being operated — including lingering questions about lax security and an abrupt, and later canceled, downsizing of a drug treatment program.

That has left some corrections officials insisting privately that they are being unfairly micromanaged, a complaint that highlights simmering tensions between the agency and lawmakers.

Prison officials defend the housing voucher program and seem somewhat surprised at the criticism. They say the parolees who are being assigned to the homes are screened. Most are getting out of prison anyway and could live wherever they choose since they have no restrictions to stay away from schools or children.

"This is a program that's working," said Stuart Jenkins, the state parole director whose division oversees the housing vouchers. "As we're growing with the program, we're making some changes, as you would with any program. We haven't had any significant issues so far."

Even so, after complaints from Madden and others, parole officials ordered nearly a dozen felons removed from several residential homes where the state had been paying to rent rooms — including the Dallas house — and mandated that no more than two felons can live at any one location until further notice. Jenkins said officials are also reviewing the payment rates in the program and whether felons should be moved from cheaper halfway houses into more expensive housing assistance sites.
Texas releases more than 70,000 prisoners per year, so this squabbling over a few dozen at the margins hardly merits sounding the alarm too loudly. Ward notes that:
At the time Texas lawmakers approved the law in 2009, more than 300 parole-ready convicts were sitting in cells with no place to go.

Under the law, the state can pay for housing for those new parolees for up to 90 days at a price not to exceed the daily cost of a prison bunk. In some cases, officials said, they can extend the housing payments up to 180 days.
Since their sentences are up and the alternative is to cut the offender loose to live wherever they want, this doesn't seem like a bad solution to transition folks out of prison and reduce the pre-parole population at the margins. If they're placing 6-8 people at the same address, I've no doubt neighbors will complain. But as long as it's happening at an individual level and the living quarters don't violate conditions of parole (prohibitions against living near schools, etc.), I tend to agree with Jenkins the agency out to be given enough leash to implement the brand spanking new program and work out the kinks.


Anonymous said...

Putting a large number of ex-felons in one housing project does not increase crime. I am involved in one such project and we are not experiencing any problems. As long as this project is supervised by a responsible individual, it is successful. These laws that ask to not house ex-felons together are made by people who know nothing about what is really happening in the community. Bar these "formerly incarcerated" persons from housing is counter productive . Do you know how many people live in apartment complexes who are committing crimes like using or selling narcotics or committing other misdemeanors or crimes , but have not been caught yet? A cluster of ex- felons living in one area has the advantage of more supervision by parole and probation personnel and law enforcement, I can guarantee that . Now I wait for the NIMBY people to come and attack me !

Anonymous said...

I certainly see the controversy in this. Do I see the need for reentry housing? Definately! Do I want them housed by me? No. I think thats the way most people are going to feel. However, I do agree that the program can be very beneficial if run properly.

sunray's wench said...

@ anon 9.51 ~ so where should they be housed?

Anonymous said...

I see that the state still does not see the big picture. When the treatment initiative was at full bloom most of these problems were mininum. You already have laws that restrict these individuals from being able to get their own (apartment association)place, and then you have reduced the treatment beds to almost nothing, Oh1 by the way putting a learge number of treatment facilities out of business, But the state still wants to run things. An earlier comment was right on target and here's more food for thought did the state ask any of the community leaders or substance abuse providers for their input. I quote a saying from a visonary who started a program of such that most of these issues,if the program was left to grow the way it was suppose to would not have even come about.(It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that locking them and then having not on the back end of confinement does not bring resolution but only chaos). Take criminal justice people out of the mix, because they have one single thought and that is incarceration not rehilbilitation and reunification. For the past twenty years I have been doing just what they are trying to do, they are reinventing the wheel without a design are long term purpose. The program can work if the right individuals were to implement it. Just ask around some of the recovery communities and you will see.

Inthedoghouse said...

They can send them to my neighborhood in SW Arlington and I hope I get to know some of them! Dang 9:51, what other groups do feel should be excluded - blacks and Hispanics maybe or what about Jews, they're known to be quite underhanded aren't they?!!

Anonymous said...

09:51, I know what you mean. I like living as far as possible from anyone who makes me uncomfortable. Can't believe these people are jumping down your throat. That includes criminals.

04:08, I do avoid living next to most blacks. Not saying they should be excluded, but I'll keep hoping I can avoid them as much as possible.

Hispanics are ok. They have more family values and respect for others, in my experience.

sunray's wench said...

I'm not jumping down anyone's throat, I'm just curious to hear a solution instead of complaints all the time. If you don't want ex-felons housed near to you, where do you think they should be housed? Until someone comes up with a sensible answer, we'll just keep going round in circles.

Anonymous said...

These people go to prison and they're expected to be responsible members of society when they get out so now people want to bitch about providing housing for a few months. So lets just dump them out where more than likely they'll get in trouble. People can be so narrow minded sometimes. My counselor served 8 years prison time and got out and went to school,got a pardon and is helping others. People need help sometimes and if the program is working and helping people get their lives back together then it should continue.