DOC Commissioner looks for alternatives to halfway houses
When it comes to reintegrating inmates back into society, Department of Corrections Commissioner Dean Williams says the current halfway house model isn’t cutting it.
“I inherited a system where there's some benefit and gains to the halfway houses we have, but there's some liabilities too, so I'm actively pursuing about other alternatives: where people get out of prison, where they live, where they get a job. Halfway houses are okay on some level doing that, but I am expanding to have other options,” said Williams in a recent interview with KTVA.
At last check, on Friday, 358 people are currently living in Alaska’s eight halfway houses.
Last year, with the population hovering around 350, the state was averaging one walkaway a day.
Now, DOC spokesperson Megan Edge says the state is seeing an average of eight people walking away per month.
Williams says this change comes after the department started choosing candidates more carefully.
“[Halfway houses were] also used as a way to deal with overcrowding, and so we were putting people in there on the front end who were just charged with a crime, along with people on the back end who are waiting, finishing out their sentence. People on the back end mostly, on the back end of their sentence, just want to get out get a job and get home. People on the front end are still drug addicted in many cases, and so it was not a good mix.”
Williams has told KTVA and spoken publicly about the fact that inmates, in some cases, left halfway houses before their time was up, to escape drugs that have been brought into the facility.
“It’s happened, and I’ve been keenly aware of that,” he said.
KTVA’s request for data on how often drugs are confiscated inside halfway houses was denied because the department says it doesn’t currently track drug activity inside halfway houses, only institutions.
Williams says while he’s pleased to see the walkaway rate has gone down, he still wants to see more changes.
“I can just tell you I am not satisfied with the current halfway house model, and I've been going after some changes on that for a while and I think we're getting close,” he said.
He didn’t give specifics, saying he doesn’t want to get ahead of himself but says he’s open to whatever works best.
“We have some addicts, by the way, who have already been released who live in small community homes. They're all on Vivitrol, which is a drug that prevents them from getting high, they're with other addicts, there's peer supported people that are there -- it works, it works. So I’m looking at those kinds of models,” he explained, adding, “Whatever option is doing better is the one I'm going with, so I'm not married to halfway houses indefinitely, I am not. I'm married to whatever the results are best, and if these other places do better than halfway houses, then that's where I’m going.”
Williams also said he doesn’t want to discredit halfway house contractors, saying “they’ve been great people to work with.” He also said he doesn’t foresee a scenario where Alaska doesn’t use halfway houses to some extent, but he hopes they’ll eventually be one of the several options for inmates transitioning back to society.