A halfway house is a residential facility designed to help people transition into independent living. They were initially developed as drug-free living environments for people who had completed residential treatment. These houses were meant to be “halfway” points between the restrictive structure of rehab and the complete independence of home.
When halfway houses serve people out of prison, they are typically called “residential re-entry centers” (RRCs). Halfway houses that serve non-offenders are often called “sober living houses” (SLHs) to avoid stigma.
Although some halfway houses serve people experiencing psychiatric issues or homelessness, most focus on recovery from substance abuse issues.
Residential Re-Entry Centers
Residential re-entry centers aim to help inmates successfully transition from prison to public life. Most RRCs offer substance abuse treatment and job training. They may also offer mental health counseling, financial training, and help finding housing after prison.
Although they are sometimes called “federal halfway houses”, RRCs are rarely run by the federal government. Instead, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) hires private contractors to operate each facility. Living arrangements vary between facilities. Some RRCs offer private single rooms with closeable doors. Others may house several people in a room and block doorways with curtains.
Typically, a BOP Community Corrections Manager will recommend a prisoner be placed in a halfway house. If they consent, the individual can spend the last 3 to 12 months of their sentence at the facility. Since RRCs are located within public communities, people convicted of violence– or sex-related crimes are typically not eligible for relocation.
Rules for RRCs
Unlike prisons, residential re-entry centers allow offenders to leave their premises. Individuals can sign in and out of the facility so they can attend work or counseling. However, they are bound to strict curfews, and the RRC staff can monitor their location. Individuals often take drug tests once they return to the facility for the day.
Individuals are expected to find full-time employment shortly after arriving at the facility. The RRC requires inmates to pay a fee for housing costs, and this fee can be up to 25% of their gross income. If the individual does not find work, fails a drug test, or breaks other rules, they may be sent back to prison.
Sober Living Houses
The term “sober living house” typically refers to facilities for non-offenders who voluntarily seek help. Most houses require individuals to take part in some kind of addiction treatment program. Some SLHs may offer 12-step program, support groups, or clinical counseling on the premises. Others provide referrals to outside counselors.
Halfway houses often require residents to follow curfews, maintain the facility through chores, and attend house meetings. A house manager typically enforces these rules. Unlike RRCs, residents at a sober living house can leave at any time (although they may still be responsible for paying their last month’s rent).
The cost of staying at a sober living house varies by facility. Some halfway houses split the cost of rent and utilities between residents. When an SLH is affiliated with an outpatient treatment program, insurance may pay for a person’s stay at a halfway house. There are some free halfway houses funded by the government or nonprofit organizations, but these may be harder to get into due to demand.
Do Sober Living Houses Work?
Sober living houses can vary in which rules they set, services they offer, and costs they charge. If you or a loved one are looking for an SLH, it may help to get a referral from a mental health care provider. Your therapist can help you find a halfway house that best fits your needs. You can find addiction counselors near you on GoodTherapy’s directory.
You may also wish to look up the facility on accreditation agency websites. The Better Business Bureau, the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, and the National Alliance on Recovery Residences all offer information on sober living facilities.
In general, sober living homes do improve abstinence rates for their residents. One 2010 study looked at residents emerging from two facilities called ORS and CSLT.
- CSLT program: 20% of participants had been abstinent for six months at the beginning of the program. Half a year after completing the program, the abstinence rate was 40%.
- ORS program: 11% of participants were abstinent at the beginning of the program, while 68% were abstinent six months after the program.
These abstinence rates remained mostly stable by the 12- and 18-month marks as well. In other words, people who are abstinent after leaving an SLH tend to stay abstinent. Involvement in a 12-step program was the strongest predictor of positive outcomes.
- Completing the transition. (2019). Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved from https://www.bop.gov/about/facilities/residential_reentry_management_centers.jsp
- Elkins, C. (2018, June 4). Halfway houses. Retrieved from https://www.drugrehab.com/recovery/sober-living-homes/halfway-houses
- Frequently asked questions about federal halfway houses & home confinement [PDF]. (2012, April 24). Retrieved from https://famm.org/wp-content/uploads/FAQ-Halfway-House-4.24.pdf
- Polcin, D. L., Korcha, R., Bond, J., & Galloway, G. (2010). What did we learn from our study on sober living houses and where do we go from here? Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 42(4), 425-433. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3057870
- Wagener, D. (2018, December 7). Sober living communities and housing options. Retrieved from https://www.recovery.org/aftercare/sober-living
Last Updated: 07-10-2019
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Karmen KApril 6th, 2017 at 8:37 PM
How do you start a halfway house? What hoops does a person have to jump through??? Extremely interested in starting a “haven” in Wyoming.
Finola dJuly 16th, 2017 at 5:22 AM
I am moving to halfway house in Kent call cross way.
USANGApril 26th, 2019 at 7:14 AM
i need help on how to establish a halfway home for patients discharged from a psychiatric hospital facility. i am a mental health nurse and feel for a follow up of my patient in a central area for rehab within adjusted community setting
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