DOC’s transitional housing program provides grants to 25 organizations statewide that offer temporary housing and support services to inmates who need greater assistance upon release.
Between 2009 and 2013, the number of offenders the program served grew 59 percent, from 627 to 996, and its costs increased 157 percent, from $2.3 million to $5.9 million, over the same period, according to the report.
State Auditor Doug Hoffer reviewed data reported to DOC by nine of the 25 grantees and found that 35 percent of offenders enrolled with those organizations didn’t have required service plans. For offenders with service plans, DOC had signed off on only 5 percent. Only 55 percent of the services that grant recipients reported delivering were documented, according to the report.
The audit team found that while DOC has recently begun to measure how well the transitional housing program reintegrates offenders back into the community, the department isn’t measuring its impact on recidivism or public safety.
“Without accurate reporting, the State cannot adequately monitor this program to determine its effectiveness and compliance with the grant agreements,” Hoffer said in a statement.
The report did not find specific cases where transitional housing grantees claimed to have provided services that were never rendered, but it highlights lax and sometimes inaccurate documentation, as well as scant outcome measurements.
Corrections officials said the report does not credit them with other forms of oversight, such as quarterly meetings with DOC central office managers, probation officers and their partner organizations in the program. There are also regional DOC liaisons hired to coordinate services with grant recipients, as well as a “tremendous amount” of regular contact between probation officers and grantees, they said.
In a letter responding to Hoffer’s report, DOC Commissioner Andy Pallito writes that he is confident in the quality and integrity of the transitional housing program’s services, but he agreed there is room for improvement.
“This work does not always lend itself to being easily documented and outcome measured, and those are challenges to which DOC must certainly rise,” Pallito wrote.
His department plans to make changes in the reporting process for the transitional housing program based on the auditor’s suggestions. It is also in the process of redefining the program’s specific goals and developing performance measures, Pallito said.
Derek Miodownik, head of Community and Restorative Justice for DOC, is in charge of the transitional housing program. He says the program’s stated goals of reducing recidivism and increasing public safety date back to its establishment in 2004.
Miodownik would like to see them updated to focus more on whether participants are relying less on institutional supports. Last year, for example, the department began tracking the number of offenders who make the leap from transitional housing to living independently, he said.
DOC does not track how long people from the program remain on their own, he said, adding that it’s more a measure of whether the person “acquired the capacity and resources” and had an opportunity to make that transition.
It would be unfair to exclusively attribute recidivism, which is often directly connected to public safety, to the transitional housing program’s success or failure, he said. There are many factors that can contribute to someone reoffending and some are beyond the state’s control, he said.
He is unsure whether recidivism will be among the performance measures DOC ultimately decides to track for this program, Miodownik said.
The people served by the transitional housing program have increasingly complex cases, and often prior releases from corrections, he said. It’s a subpopulation within corrections that is more likely to face challenges upon release, and therefore measuring its recidivism against the entire corrections population would be unfair.
However, Miodownik acknowledged that if DOC was tracking recidivism among the people served by its transitional housing program it would be fair to use the program’s performance over time as a measure of its success.