Audit Slams N.H. Halfway Homes

Concord — An audit of the Department of Corrections found deficiencies in its transitional housing units, suggesting they offer inmates little more than a roof and a bed as they search for work.

The report, released Friday, recommends that the department add services at the facilities, track the outcomes of former residents and avoid sending low-risk prisoners there altogether.

The department, for its part, agrees.

“We’re slowly changing the idea and concept of what that whole division of community corrections is,” Commissioner William Wrenn told the Legislature’s Fiscal Committee on Friday, responding to the review. “And it needs to be. It’s not the traditional halfway house that we all think of today.”

But Wrenn also said the improvements could require additional funding, of which the department has none.

The audit looked at the state’s four transitional facilities, which hold a combined 322 beds. It noted that few to no treatment services are available at the units, and that those available are spread unevenly among them. Two offer GED instruction. One offers limited alcohol and substance abuse treatment. One — Calumet House in Manchester — offers no such services at all, the report indicated.

Moreover, none of the three male facilities provide treatment for sex offenders — a potential safety risk given the duration some inmates spend at the units, staff cited in the review said. Of 170 men assessed at one of the units, 19 were convicted sex offenders, and 10 of those spent more than three months in the facility.

Wrenn recognized the need. He said the department had been working to improve its sex offender program inside the prisons and would assess how it could do the same at the transitional units.

“We’re looking at changing that whole dynamic,” he told the committee. “It’s just that, we haven’t gotten there yet. But we agree that we need to, and we’ll be working on that in the future.”

The report said the department should rethink who it sends to the units.

“Inmates with short sentences, strong family support, or a job waiting for them benefit from the work program because these inmates may already have a reduced likelihood of returning to prison,” it stated.

The change could begin to alleviate a bottleneck the department continues to face in its admissions process. Of 71 men in transitional housing in 2011, nearly half had to wait more than 100 days to get in, the report said.

The audit also said the department should routinely evaluate the transitional program to determine its effectiveness on reducing recidivism among former offenders.