This series examines the role of halfway houses in New Haven reentry efforts, looking at their effectiveness, conditions, and availability.

Part 1 of the series examines the way men in halfway houses actually get jobs in the community and discusses structural flaws in the work release program. Part 2 examines conditions in halfway houses, based upon the accounts of a few different men who have gone through the homes. Part 3 examines the way budget cuts limit similar work release programs for women and in general hinder reentry efforts. The piece was written over the span of four months beginning in March 2017.

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“REINTEGRATION IS A JOKE.”

When Max, 27, was granted early release from Cheshire Correctional Institute and moved into the Roger Sherman Halfway House, he thought he would begin to reintegrate back into the New Haven community. He thought he was ending his time in prison. He was shocked by what he experienced instead.

“It felt like I was still in jail,” he said.

A major issue facing anyone exiting prison is finding employment. However, Max especially has had trouble getting a job due to restrictions put on men living in the halfway house. He has had to turn down two jobs because he could not get clearance. One job started out with a $50,000 dollars a year salary, including benefits, but he lost it because he couldn’t leave the state to make the training in New York.

Max currently works at a car wash. He does not think the job will sustain him long-term.

“They want us to get jobs. But the jobs I feel like they’re pushing us towards are car washes, and Burger King and McDonalds, and stuff,” Max said. “With these jobs we can’t sustain ourselves, let alone our families.”

When called for comment, Gail Eureka, the Program Director of both the Roger Sherman Halfway House and The Sierra Center Halfway House, explained that the Department of Corrections (DOC) requires oversight of any interaction that the men in the house have with the press. For this reason, the names of the men speaking about their experiences within halfway houses have been made anonymous, and Eureka cannot comment on anything they have said. The Department of Corrections did not respond in time for comment.

Max worries that a lack of sustainable employment will cause many of the other men in the house to resort to crime.

“Because [the halfway house] didn’t prepare us to reintegrate into society. Because no one can survive off a Burger King job, paying bills, household bills, and taking care of their children,” he said.

Max has a young son, and upon entering Roger Sherman was told that an expected part of his stay would involve reintegration with his family. Yet Max was upset to find that he is only allowed one visit a week with his family on Saturday for about three hours. The men in the house can file for more time with their families if they have a job, but that involves submitting paperwork.

“That can take however many months they want to get back to us for a furlough to go see them,” Max explained.

He was also shocked to find that even though he was allowed passes to leave the house to go on job searches, if he was caught at his family’s house using that pass he could be sent back to jail.

“Reintegration is a joke,” he said.

 

“THE PROBLEM IS THAT THEY CAN’T GET JOBS.”

Roger Sherman is just one example in a larger trend.

There are three halfway houses for men in New Haven: Roger Sherman Halfway House, The Sierra Center, and Walter Brooks House. The non-profit The Connection runs both Roger Sherman and The Sierra Center. Another nonprofit—Project MORE—runs Walter Brooks. A fourth halfway house named Dana’s House is opening in the community intended purely for individuals dealing with mental health issues. A third nonprofit, Family Reentry, will run it.

Federal Judge Jeffrey Meyer works in the District of Connecticut in New Haven. He explained that he has heard complaints about the lack of federal halfway house in New Haven. There are only three federal halfway houses in the state of Connecticut: Harford House and Watkinson House in Hartford, and Chase Center in Waterbury.

Clifton Graves is the head of Project Fresh Start, a reentry program run out of New Haven City Hall intended to curb recidivism and help formerly incarcerated individuals transition back into the community. According to Graves, 60 percent of individuals reentering New Haven go through a halfway house.

The Connecticut DOC defines Roger Sherman House as a work release program intended to serve males ages 18 or over who have been referred by the DOC. On its website, the DOC says the intention of Roger Sherman is to reintegrate the men into the community by facilitating employment, providing room and board, and offering social services such as group counseling and substance abuse education.

Holly Wasilewski, a retired New Haven police captain who is now the Reentry Community Outreach Coordinator at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, explained that halfway houses are a crucial component for individuals who are released on parole but haven’t finished their entire sentence. Men who are paroled early, released before they served 85 percent of a violent crime or 50 percent of a nonviolent crime, are typically released to a halfway house.

“It’s a step down from being incarcerated,” Wasilewski said. “But there are still a lot of rules that go a long way with it.”

Work release programs like Roger Sherman aim to help their inhabitants gain employment to begin to reintegrate into society before they finish their sentence. The Department of Corrections requests that at least 50 percent of Roger Sherman have some sort of job, work-study, or enrollment in school. According to Eureka, the employment rate for Roger Sherman and Sierra Center is around 86 percent. Over the course of the year, the Roger Sherman will house about 250 to 300 people.

When men leave for work there are limits on how long they can be out of the area—the typical limit for Roger Sherman is between 12 and 16-hours, including travel time. Men staying in the house are expected to take public transport as much as possible, though they can get an approved driver. The men are also expected to pay 30 percent of their net salary to the house, or up to $100 dollars.

Richard, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, is currently staying in Roger Sherman Halfway House finishing a felony sentence of third-degree burglary. He has been attempting to spread a petition protesting Roger Sherman’s conditions. Richard feels disillusioned with the practice of many halfway houses. In his life, he has stayed in six. He feels that the houses only do the bare minimum of rehabilitation efforts to maintain their license.

Richard especially takes issue with the house’s required rent. He explained, “The thing is, when you’ve got guys in these places that are trying to save up to transition to another type of environment, and they’re working [a minimum wage job], and you’re taking $100 a month from them for a room, that’s a big deal. It has serious ramifications on the quality of life of the individuals that you’re supposed to be helping raise out of poverty.”

Sam, who requested to remain anonymous, stayed in Roger Sherman Halfway House in 2004. He struggled meeting with the required rent.

Tim, whose name has also been changed, was incarcerated for six years for bank robbery. Upon release he became homeless for a year and a half, returning to illegal drug and alcohol use, leading to his recidivism. He is currently staying in Roger Sherman.

Coming into the house Tim was offered a high-paying job with benefits. However, after about two and a half months, Roger Sherman told him that he could no longer work there. Tim believes this happened because he had gone without asking for permission to see his grandmother, who had fallen and broken her hip, when he was supposed to be at work. He says his parole officer then did not allow him to look for work for a month. This parole officer eventually left Roger Sherman, and Tim was transferred to a new officer who has since approved a new job for him.

Missing a whole month of work was extremely difficult for Tim. Richard says he has seen many examples of the house preventing men from having more lucrative jobs because they do not meet its strict standards for employment.

Alden Woodcock is the Deputy Director of the reentry program Emerge, a program that not only provides social services for men exiting prison but also helps them find employment by placing them on construction work crews.

Woodcock shared, “As an employer that works with halfway houses, I don’t know how other employers do it. They have unrealistic expectations from the employer a lot of the times.”

He explained that many halfway houses require employers to call the house when the men leave work, which he feels is an unrealistic burden to put on employers.

“[It means that] a lot of employers will wash their hands [of men in halfway houses]. They can get someone who’s not in a halfway house and they won’t have to deal with it,” Woodcock said.

Roger Sherman has vocational counselors who are supposed to help the men find work, though Max feels that all they do is double check how much the men make and verify that they have a job. There used to be two counselors, but now only one remains with the house.

“[It’s] a waste of money [to have] vocational counselors, when they’re not even helping us try to get a job,” Max said.

However, Gail Eureka pointed out that, “[Roger Sherman and Sierra Center] are fortunate enough to [each] have a vocational specialist. Most programs don’t.”

Ernest Bookert Jr. stayed in Roger Sherman for eight months in 2011. During his stay, he didn’t look for a job until he was released. He found the idea that he could be punished for returning late back to the house incredibly stressful.

“Basically, me personally, I felt that if I took too long to get back, then there was an issue. So I tried to eliminate the issue,” Bookert shared.

Sam recalls how men in Roger Sherman during his time there were not allowed to take temp jobs even though he felt temp jobs were the only things hiring.

When asked, Eureka listed many different types of employers that hire from Roger Sherman and the Sierra Center. Town Fair Tire’s warehouse is a very common, often taking men who have no work history. The food industry is equally prevalent. She also listed painters, dockworkers, welders, and mechanics, among other jobs.

Eureka stated that if men haven’t paid their rent they are still allowed to sign out on work release, saying, “There usually is a conversation with the supervising parole officer and the program manager, to see why it’s happening and how to get back on track. It’s something, a conversation usually, that’s had to determine what’s happening. Other than that, typically, we don’t hold them back from work.”

However, Richard provided a photo of a whiteboard announcing that if the men were not caught up on their rent by Monday, February 27th they would not be permitted to sign out for work.

Sam recalls this same standard being applied when he stayed in Roger Sherman in 2004.

In the past, Richard has been put on “no movement” for arguing with the staff, meaning he cannot work for seven days.

He provided a photograph showing other men who were put on “no movement.” Eureka would not comment on the exact definition of “no movement,” and the Department of Corrections did not respond in time for comment.

Limiting someone’s ability to work raises the risk of him being fired. Another formerly incarcerated individual, Frank, who requested to remain anonymous, stayed in Roger Sherman a few years ago. He lost a job when he was put on “no movement.” He recalls the entire house was on lockdown for a month because two of the men were fighting.

In Richard and Tim’s opinion, the tight security in the house can make the process of looking for a job extremely difficult. Tim explained that in order to get certain jobs, such as working for a landscaper, the men have to get drivers approval from the halfway house manager. This process often takes such a long time that the job offer expires. Eureka confirmed that receiving driver’s approval could take up to four weeks.

Dan Jusino is the Executive Director of Emerge. He feels that the houses pressure men away from taking jobs with places like Emerge, where they work around 24 hours a week, and towards jobs at places like Town Faire Tires where they work around 60 hours a week. Jusino theorizes this is because when men work fewer hours the halfway houses make less money off of their 30% of salaries.

He shared, “If [a guy] is trying to do the right thing, going to school, doing personal development, mental health, engaging in skill sets that will really help him, not necessarily so much today but down the road for the rest of his life, they’ll push [him] to leave here and go to Town Fair Tire.”

“And what’s going to happen to him when he get’s released?” Jusino asked. “He’s going to lose that job.”

Mary Loftus is the lead case manager of Community Reentry Services for Easter Seals Goodwill Industries. When asked what she thinks of the halfway housing system in New Haven she responded, “I mean, for males it works.”

“The fact that they exist and it’s an opportunity for guys to come out and look for a job, start work, and put some money aside so that once they get out of the halfway house they have a little cushion. [That] is good,” Loftus explained.  “The problem is that they can’t get [long term] jobs.”

Loftus explained that there are some companies that will hire temporarily out of halfway houses, such as Town Fair Tire and Milford Barrel.

“The one downfall that I’ve heard about the halfway houses is there are a couple of employers in this city that will hire people from there, but once they know that you’re [released], they fire you,” she shared. “[The men] get a job at these places through the halfway house. It’s almost like [these companies are] using the halfway house as their temporary labor agency.”

Dan Jusino has seen this phenomenon first hand during his time running Emerge. He says that every one of his men who has worked at Town Fair Tires was fired within two weeks of being released from their halfway house. Thus, when halfway houses push men away from programs like Emerge and towards companies like Town Fair Tires, he feels they are doing the men a disservice. He worries the houses do not care what employment will actually help the men attempt reentry.

Frank and Sam also noticed this trend during their stay in Roger Sherman. “[Men who are released] get fired [from Town Fair Tires]. They want somebody else who’s in the halfway house. This is the insanity,” said Frank.

Alden Woodcock said he believes the houses have contracts with certain companies that promise to follow DOC regulations and account for the men, and perhaps the men are pushed towards those jobs.

“But I don’t always think that the employment that [the men are] getting benefits the guy’s progress. A lot of times they won’t end up staying with the job. It won’t be a permanent thing,” Woodcock said. “They just put their guys to Town Fair Tire. They put their guys to Restaurant Depot [because the houses] know that they’ll be accounted for.”

Town Fair Tires did not respond to requests for comment.

Holly Wasilewski theorized that abuse of the Step Up Program could also cause such work to taper off. The Step Up Program is funded by the Connecticut Department of Labor and provides wage and training subsidies to employers that hire an unemployed jobseeker. This program extends to men in halfway houses. Wasilewski pointed out that certain employers might take the tax credit and hire someone but let them go once the subsidies taper of. She had heard stories of this happening, though it is not the norm.

Clifton Graves also theorized some companies might abuse the Step Up Program and let men go once subsidies. However, Graves added that it is his understanding that, if the Department of Labor ever catches a company doing this, they will not be worked with again.

“There’s a carrot and a stick approach to [these programs],” Graves explained. “People [can] abuse the system. People are human.”

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For more, read:

Part 2: Halfway house conditions
Part 3: Budgetary restrictions