Although halfway houses have changed dramatically through the years — morphing from intimate dwellings with a handful of wayward souls to large, institution-like facilities run by private companies — they have become an important source of savings for the cash-strapped state Corrections Department in recent years.
Jerry Massie, department spokesman, said the state contracts with eight halfway houses for its male inmate population.
According to the Corrections Department website, the facilities can house anywhere from 40 inmates to more than 300.
A halfway house operated by Avalon Correctional Services Inc., in Tulsa, can house up to 325 inmates, giving it the largest capacity in the state.
The latest facility count available on the correction department's website shows there are roughly 1,100 inmates in halfway houses. Total capacity is 1,482, records show.
Overall, 25,853 inmates are in Corrections Department custody. An additional 24,000 are under the department's supervision through probation and parole arrangements.
Inmates can work, pay
Massie said inmates doing time in halfway houses, which typically boast employment percentages in the upper 90s, save the department thousands of dollars each day.
A typical inmate under the purview of the department costs about $45 per day, Massie said. Prisoners in halfway houses cost only about $32 per day.
Massie said halfway houses in the Corrections Department network — five in Oklahoma City, two in Tulsa and one in Enid — all are operated and staffed by private companies.
“There are no DOC employees working at these places,” Massie said, adding that the inmates are forced to pay some of their wages back to stay at the halfway house.
Inmates either work at regular jobs or on crews doing specialized labor for governmental entities, he said.
“It helps them build up a nest egg, if you will, and they have to pay back some of that to the state, which helps defer the cost to the state,” Massie said.
While escapes and misconduct are common among halfway houses, they don't appear to pose a major threat to communities that surround them.
Indeed, most of infractions logged by inmates at halfway houses are related to being under the influence of drugs, not staying within the agreed-upon confinement area and being in possession of cellphones inside the facility.
“The way the system is set up, it kind of flows from higher security to lower security,” Massie said. “As people are getting closer to being released, the hope is they behave until that time comes.”
Not in my backyard
Yet halfway houses can face stiff opposition when they try to enter new communities, which is the case in Del City.
The Del City zoning commission rejected a private company's proposal to relocate one of its halfway houses to the city from south Oklahoma City. The city council will decide the issue Tuesday.
“People tend to freak out when they hear they're going to build a halfway house, or a prison for that matter, in their area,” Massie said. “It's normal. It's expected.”
For now, the department is expected to keep its halfway house program in place, but growth isn't likely.
“I don't think so,” Massie said. “We are good with what we have now, so I don't see that happening any time soon.”