How to Open a Halfway House for Ex-Offenders

by Nicole O'Driscoll

For ex-offenders seeking a full reintegration into society, spending time at a halfway house is vital. A house that is professionally managed, with zero tolerance for alcohol and drug abuse, affords the opportunity for ex-inmates to commit to a new way of life. Offenders who alternate between prison and criminal behavior upon release find themselves vulnerable often because they have no choice but to return to their former communities and lifestyles. A halfway house is a way to break the cycle of crime and establish hope for a better future.

Contact your state Department of Corrections, Local Welfare Services and Probation and Parole Offices for funding to set up the halfway house. These agencies often set aside money for this kind of project. Determine the licensing, permit and zoning requirements for your facility by contacting the appropriate departments in your state.

Find a location that can be purchased outright or rented for an agreed period. Inform the local police department of your location as they may occasionally be needed to handle any problems.

Draft a budget. Set aside funds for rent/mortgage; furniture; bedding; utilities; kitchen equipment; office equipment; support staff and manager's salaries; hygiene supplies such as soap and paper towels; office supplies and stationary; inspection fees; insurance; and parking permits.

Arrange to have the house inspected and made safe by a surveyor, certified electrician, plumber and gas maintenance technician. Make any necessary structural adaptations, such as installing handicapped accessible ramps and sprinkler systems.

Equip the house with beds and sheets, laundry and cooking facilities, and a communal relaxation or recreation area with space to read, listen to music and socialize. Visit charity shops for donations of books, DVDs, music and games. Keep an inventory of all items that are the property of the house.

Set criteria for admission into the house. Which candidates qualify will depend on how long they have been free of drug and alcohol use, their history of violence, if any, and their psychiatric history. Determine what you will charge each resident and how you will collect for services provided.

Establish a relationship with neighbors as a way to counter the "not in my backyard" type of resistance to halfway houses. Although the purpose of the house can be kept confidential, it is a good idea to build trust.

Write policies on drug and alcohol infractions; visiting hours; access to supplies; residents' curfew; and residents' input into duties such as cleaning, recycling and waste management. Set policies also regarding conflict, bullying and violence that may arise in the house.

Recruit qualified staff through local newspapers and magazines, detention centers, local job centers, and health and social service agencies. Set guidelines for how many staff must be present in the house throughout the day and night and what shifts they will work.

Meet with charities and organizations that can work with residents and make referrals to addiction treatment services, training, recreation, employment and education services, ex-offender support organizations and faith-based groups. The halfway house is more effective at reducing recidivism if it acts as a gateway to long-term support for the ex-offender.

About the Author

Nicole O'Driscoll has been writing since 2000. She is published in "The James Joyce Bloomsday Centenary Collection" and has written about social exclusion and incarceration in Samuel Beckett's "Trilogy." O'Driscoll is a qualified nurse who manages a mental-health crisis house. She holds a doctorate in English literature from Newcastle University.

Photo Credits