Oops. Arkansas has joined the national movement to push more criminal offenders into drug courts and community-based punishment, both to cut the cost of expensive prisons and because of the idea that community-based re-entry is a better way to discourage repeat offenses.

Comes this news from Pennsylvania via the New York Times:


The federal government and states across the country have spent billions of dollars in recent years on sprawling, privately run halfway houses, which are supposed to save money and rehabilitate inmates more effectively than prisons do.

But now, a groundbreaking study by officials in Pennsylvania is casting serious doubt on the halfway-house model, concluding that inmates who spent time in these facilities were more likely to return to crime than inmates who were released directly to the street.

The findings startled the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett, which responded last month by drastically overhauling state contracts with the companies that run the 38 private halfway houses in Pennsylvania. The system costs more than $110 million annually.

Pennsylvania’s corrections secretary, John E. Wetzel, who oversaw the study, called the system “an abject failure.”

“The focus has been on filling up beds,” Mr. Wetzel said in an interview. “It hasn’t been on producing good outcomes.”

QUALITY intervention and treatment certainly sounds like a better alternative to dead-end incarceration. But they aren’t cheap. We’ve already seen in Arkansas the potential for alternative programs to be playpens for fly-by-night operators who scoop up new government programs then deliver marginal, sometimes corrupt, services. Doctors, social workers, substance abuse counselors and careful supervision cost money. Without them, you don’t have much, except warehousing of violators in less restrictive settings. Surprise. People enrolled in such places violate again.