Inmate violations at halfway houses

This article, previously published on Oklahoma Watch, discusses inmate violations at two of Oklahoma’s halfway houses, citing issues including the admittance qualifications and staff oversights. With issues like this prevalent across the country, there is a definite need for a change in the way the justice system responds to criminal offenders.

Questions of oversight: inmate violations at halfway houses
by Clifton Adcock

Serious violations by inmates plagued Oklahoma’s two largest halfway houses for three years before the state took action in January by removing all inmates from one and later demanding a corrective plan at the other.

State data analyzed by Oklahoma Watchshow that from 2010 to 2013, the rates of serious “misconducts” by male offenders quadrupled at the Avalon Correctional Center in Tulsa, run by a for-profit company, Avalon Correctional Services Inc. After a video of an alleged guard-sanctioned fight there came to light in January, the Department of Corrections pulled out all 212 inmates.

Ten months later, more than 200 inmates again are in the facility.

Violations also spiked at the Carver Transitional Center in Oklahoma City, also operated by Avalon. The rate of serious misconducts nearly tripled from 2010 to 2012 before slipping last year. In March, the corrections department gave surprise random drug tests to 153 Carver inmates, and more than half tested positive. The state ordered an action plan to fix the problem, and since has added offenders to the facility.

A prison watchdog group, OK-CURE, questions whether the state Department of Corrections should place so many inmates in Avalon-run facilities given the history of oversight problems. Avalon Correctional Services, based in Oklahoma City, now houses more inmates in its two male halfway houses than it did two years ago, when serious violations were climbing.

Corrections Director Robert Patton said Avalon has taken steps to address concerns of oversight at Avalon Tulsa and is paying for a corrections department monitor to stay at the facility. The department also is monitoring the Carver facility, corrections officials said.

Preliminary data show that in recent months serious violations by inmates have dropped at the Carver and Avalon Tulsa halfway houses.

A big reason the state wants to reduce violations, such as drug use, at halfway houses is because the rise in serious misconducts has hampered the state’s ability to shift more inmates from overcrowded prisons to halfway houses, Board of Corrections minutes show. Inmates with egregious violations are usually moved back to higher security levels, taking up beds that might be filled by other inmates eligible to be gradually moved down into halfway houses.

To ease the problem, the state earlier his year revised its policies to expand the pool of offenders eligible for placement in halfway houses.

A Surge in Violations

The goal of halfway houses is to help nonviolent offenders near the end of their sentences find a job and prepare for life outside of prison walls.

Oklahoma has eight male halfway houses holding about 1,050 inmates. Avalon operates the two largest facilities in addition to running the largest female halfway house, located in Turley. (Lawsuits filed earlier this year allege problems there, including a failure to report sexual abuse.)

Inmates live at the facilities and can leave for a job or to find work or attend church; halfway house staff members are supposed to track their whereabouts. Drug tests are also given to the inmates.

When halfway house inmates violate rules or laws, they are subject to discipline. They can be removed and returned to a higher-security facility and, until recently, were ineligible for halfway-house placement again for at least a year.

With serious violations, called “Class X Misconducts,” offenders are almost always removed and rarely, if ever, returned to a halfway house, corrections officials said. Examples of Class-X violations are escape, possession of drugs or a weapon, and assault of staff members.

In 2011, serious violations began to rise sharply, driven largely by increased numbers and rates of violations at Carver and Avalon Tulsa. Many of the violations were possession of an unauthorized substance and escape. From 2010 to 2013, the annual number of egregious misconducts at Avalon Tulsa more than doubled, to 48; the rate, meaning the number of violations per 100 placements, quadrupled, analysis of data shows. At Carver, the number of Class-X violations more than doubled in 2011, to 49, and the rate more than doubled; the rate and numbers at Carver dropped in 2013.

Empty Beds

From 2011 to 2013, the total number of inmates placed in Oklahoma halfway houses declined by nearly 30 percent. Late last year, more than 380 halfway house beds under contract were not being used, Board of Corrections minutes show.

Read the article in its entirety on oklahomawatch.org

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