Courts & Corrections

State auditor’s report finds fault with prisoner housing program

Doug Hoffer
State Auditor Doug Hoffer. Photo by Morgan True/VTDigger
The Department of Corrections is not properly tracking transitional housing services delivered by community partners and is not adequately measuring how those services help released inmates reintegrate into the community, a state auditor’s report shows.

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.

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  • Dave Bellini

    As I read the report it looks like Pathways and Phoenix House actually know what they are doing. Some of these other organizations should have funding eliminated.

    ” …reducing recidivism and increasing public safety…”

    I think this is the most important thing. If one of these programs isn’t doing these two things the state should not only cut funding but claw back the tax dollars wasted on them.

  • Barry Kade

    Yes, Dave. And if failing to “reduce recidivism and increasing public safety” are also chargeable against the system of warehouse incarceration, perhaps that should be cut as well and replaced with a rehabilitative environment that encourages respect for law and for the rights of others.

  • Kim Fried

    Here we are again. Our great Governor and his administration are embarrassing all Vermonters with their ineptness and poor leadership. EB5 and Corrections today, what will it be tomorrow? The house of cards just keeps on falling.

  • sandra bettis

    DOC used to keep apartments open for inmates exiting the system – that was stopped for some reason and now inmates stay in jail if they have no place to go – doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

    • Mary Reed

      The offenders who are placed in transitional housing with support services are inmates who have no approve-able residence to go out to and/ or are in need of significant support services to function in the community. Most have considerable offense histories, and most have managed to ‘burn’ what few natural support systems they may have once had. Without housing and other help, they cannot get out and cannot manage on their own. Mr. Bellini’s pronouncements notwithstanding, Mr. Miodownik hit the nail on the head with his tactful statements about the inherent problems of attempting to directly connect and measure recidivism (re-offense) to transitional housing. That’s a currently unmeasured, unproven stretch.

      There are, however, ways to measure desired community-based outcomes with such offenders. Such measures will provide data about how the offenders are functioning in the community with transitional housing and related support services (and specifically, what support services each offender receives, and for how long ) VERSUS how they did in the past at staying in the community vs. incarceration and offense instances without the transitional housing and support services.

      We can identify and measure what we know. We know how many inmates eligible for release cannot find approve-able housing. We know how many of those inmates need support services to function in the community, what services they likely need, how much those services cost, and what funding streams pay for those services. We can make some good estimates of how long those services may be needed for an individual offender. We know how much bed days cost in the facilities vs. how much they cost in the community. We know how long each offender has been in the community before being incarcerated, or returned to incarceration, in the past, and we can measure how long offenders receiving transitional housing and related support services stay in the community this time around. We can measure the times they are charged with, and convicted of, a new offense when they are receiving housing and related support services, and we can compare that measure to the measure of the times these offenders were charged with, and convicted of, past offenses when they were NOT receiving the services. We can measure their employment outcomes, we can measure their community service work, we can measure the tax dollars they pay, we can measure the financial restitution they pay, we can measure the child support they provide vs. how the child(ren) were supported while the offender was incarcerated, etc. etc. If we can agree on desirable outcomes, and measure and report them over a significant period of time, we can be confident that transitional housing and related support services either is, or is not, doing what we want it to do.

      What appears needed is for the stakeholders to agree that measuring these outcomes is worth the cost of such a project and to agree on measurable program outcomes and related data needs (including reports) Presumably, the current IT system/ databases can support this effort.

      • Mary Reed

        I meant to note that the term ‘recidivism’ is not precise. It’s usual connotation is re-offending, ie committing another crime – either the same type, or another. There is a huge perceptual divide in what ‘committing’ actually means. Does it mean being caught, being suspected, being arrested, being charged, being arraigned, or being convicted?

        Technically, someone has not re-offended until convicted of committing a subsequent offense, but many people perceive recidivism as being caught, suspected, charged or arraigned. Agreeing on, clearly defining, and publicizing what recidivism means would be vital in any effort to measure success in reducing it.