Science in Christian Perspective
A. ROBERT DENTON
Denton House, Akron, Ohio 44309
From: JASA 23 (September 1971): 108-111.
Since the beginning of the reformation movement within corrections during the Eighteenth century, the problem of releasing an offender to society has been the focal point of theories. With the institution of the indeterminate sentence and consequently parole, the problem took a new slant. Instead of releasing a man who had served his entire sentence, the offender was given an early discharge based upon such factors as good behavior, the nature of his past record and a prognosis of his projected environment. However, with this parole, the offender was placed under the supervision of an officer and assigned certain rules of behavior for a set period of time.
While this has been a step in the right direction, many problems existed and still exist. It is the purpose of this article to look at one of those problems and relate one solution which has recently appeared and which is gaining a strong foothold. It is largely related through the perspective of the special endeavor with which the author is presently involved.
The nature of the problem of the reorientation of a personality that has had a number of influences militating a variety of reactions, has been largely that of removing the shock of transferring an individual from a very structured setting into an extremely free and yet demanding society. Many individuals can withstand
this shock and make the transformation with varying degrees of functional ability. At the same time there is a residue comprised of those for whom the demands of a free society are so overwhelming that their consequences appear under the heading "recidivism," a residue for whom institutionalization, while it has protected society by removing the offender's presence, has failed to implant the responsibilities inherent to perpetuation of that society. For instance, how does an individual with a variety of internal conflicts and weaknesses develop the initiative and responsibility to shoulder the obligations of a competitive community which is itself uncertain of its own values and inconsistent in the maintenance of its demands?
How does an individual with a variety of internal conflicts and weaknesses develop the initiative and responsibility to shoulder the obligations of a competitive community which is itself uncertain of its own values and inconsistent in the maintenance of its demands?
It was with such a problem in mind that within the past fifteen years
an old idea
has had a rather new adaptation. Hence, the appearance of the halfway
house, the purpose of which is to create a temporary residential buffer-zone to
lessen the stress of the transition between two extremely different societies
and to facilitate individual treatment within the free community
the ex-convict must learn to cope with his problems. It is only in
that the kinds of change necessary can best be advanced, assessed, and tested.
This cannot be accomplished in the unreal vacuum of incarceration.
While many, perhaps most, who are released have a place of residence and an occupation awaiting them, what becomes of those who have no family or outside contacts who may act as sponsors and aid in obtaining employment? What becomes of the man whose family doesn't want him or whose family situation is so unfavorable that he cannot be allowed to return to them? What becomes of the man who has extremely limited job training, emotional problems, limited funds and uncertain circumstances? From the other side of the coin, how does the parole or probation officer manage to supervise between approximately sixty and one hundred and thirty cases and give the controlled situation that is necessitated by certain cases? To answer these questions the halfway house is rendering itself a ready solution, as is witnessed by the evergrowing list of members upon the roster of the International Halfway House Association.
It should be mentioned that the idea of halfway houses in a limited sense is not new. In 1817, the Massachusetts legislature introduced a recommendation that the state supply a lodging system for ex-convicts who were destitute. Switzerland has operated a home continuously since 1905. Over the generations there have been many homes or "hostels" operated by religious and humanitarian parties which offered temporary shelter and provisions for the ex-offender. While the halfway house has sprung from this ground it should not be simply equated with its predecessors. The opening of the Dismus House in St. Louis by the "Hoodlum Priest" and St. Leonard's House in Chicago brought a new strain of operation which added the factor of professional staff and program. Here the application of more sophisticated personality techniques, the use of records and evaluation constitutes the difference between the "Hostel" and the halfway house or residential treatment center, as it is sometimes called.
THE DENTON HOUSE
With the recounting of the above, the author wishes to share the particular venture and insights gained in the endeavor which has taken root through the ministry of a mission with a history dating back to the late 1920's and which immersed itself in the problems of the poor in an underworld situation. Through the work of a British immigrant who had become a Christian, the work grew from an acquired saloon to a ghetto mission reaching out with welfare assistance, religious services, jail visits, boy's camps, prison work and eventually to a unique ministry to eleven men who were executed in the electric chair.
As times changed, the mission adjusted. Yet, out of those experiences came the dream of a home to help ex-convicts who had been contacted on the inside. Hence, the plans, the fund-raising, and the eventual opening in July 1965, of the House named by the judges of the Common Pleas Court after its founder, the Rev, Bill Denton.
This year finds the Denton House with one of the first, if not perhaps the only halfway house built from the foundation to serve that specific purpose. The home was originally built to be occupied by seven residents at a time plus a resident supervisor. As of January 1970 it was expanded to house twelve men in ten single rooms and one double.
Upon arrival, each man is provided with linen, towels, laundry facilities, two meals per day, and occasionally clothing. Recreation consists of weight lifting apparatus, pool, ping pong, and TV. At the moment, funds are being raised to build an addition to the facility which will expand its capacity to twentytwo rooms all but one of which will be single occupancy. Also within this new section will be additional recreation and office facilities.
The assistance of the home has been typical of those movements which rise to meet specific needs at specific moments. It has been faced with the necessity of learning by doing and borrowing whatever has been found successful or promising elsewhere. To this extent, it has been comparable to other such homes. In the area of programming, however, we began late and it is not entirely unreasonable to consider its first few years of operation as more of a "hostel" than a halfway house. During that period, its residents were mainly probationers intermixed with a few parolees. These were offered food, lodging, and some personal counseling.
Pragmatism figured to a large extent in the development of the establishment and the present stage of the home could well be considered a passing stage in the evolution of improvement (as time passes, the nature of halfway houses may well change a number of times as new techniques are tried and renovated). Along the way, it was found necessary to maintain records beyond the usual name, date in, and date out routine. Rules were developed and modified as the needs arose. These were kept at a minimum and have been periodically refined with the assistance of the probation and parole authorities. Basically, the rules pertain to the use of alcohol, narcotics, weapons, presence of women in dorm rooms, and hours. Pertaining to the latter, the men are required to be in at 11 P.M. Sunday through Thursday and 1:00 A.M. Friday and Saturday. Exceptions are made for special working hours and events.
Staff comprises a Director, a resident supervisor, a secretary, a counselor, and a liason parole officer from the Adult Parole Authority. Many services are rendered through the advisory board which is comprised of mainly professional men whose fields are directly related to corrections and rehabilitation. The resident supervisor manages the facilities and meals are prepared by outside assistance. The counselor, who has a Masters Degree in Sociology, carries on the greatest portion of direct contact with the residents. He assists in job placements, case histories, referrals, group therapy sessions, and two individual counseling sessions per week. Careful stress is made to meet each resident on a personal level. Much stress is placed upon the individual's self-concept and its potential development.
While nothing can substitute for an in-residence program, the work has received ready assistance from local and state agencies. Key centers for referral have been the Bureau of Employment, County Mental Health Clinic, Municipal Anabuse Program for Alcoholics and the Department of Welfare.
Finances have been raised solely via private donors and rental monies which net a maximum of twenty dollars per week for room, board, and all facilities. Rent money is collected only when the resident becomes financially capable. Our first non-private assistance began just January 1, 1970 when the House received State assistance under a new program with the Adult Parole Authority. As the program increases so does the necessity for subsidies beyond the private level. In the last six months, we have established contracts with the Ohio Youth Commission and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Success is an abstract word in the field of rehabili-tation because it may have any number of connotations. It may mean, in our context, the maintenance of a good job, or marrying and assuming responsibility, setting down the necessary groundwork for readjustment, or being able to manage one's funds in such a manner as not to overdraw one's checking account. Usually, however, it refers to those who fulfill their periods of parole supervision without any significant relapses into serious anti-social behavior.
Statistically, one's success record may vary from day to day as today's example may be tomorrow's headline. Thankfully, this is seldom the case. The statistics of the House, based upon one hundred residents, do not significantly differ from area parole statistics of a success rate between 70 and 75%. It must be taken into consideration, though, that the House deals with mainly the hard-core, poor-risk group, as the favorable cases already have a number of aspects to their advantage and do not need the services of a residential treatment center.
While the long-range goal of the House is to aid in the readjustment of men to a functional level-in all areas of the personality-success may also mean giving a chance to the man who is overdue for a release and who has no sponsor. It may mean the last chance for a man who should be returned to the penal institution as a parole violator. It also means a place of refuge for the marginal case who becomes "tight" and needs certain reinforcement. Finally, success may mean an alternative to incarceration for the man who is a border line case or for whom probation must be carried out at a level of more intense supervision. During 1970 we had 74 men at the House-only 5 of whom were returned during that year. We believe that we have been reasonably successful.
Over the past three years as Director, the author has had that unique education best summarized as "serendipitous." As we have compared notes with other halfway houses, we have discovered that many of the problems of development which we felt were our own particular burdens were actually very similar to those elsewhere and had been remedied in some cases. While this presented a measure of comfort, too often this insight came after we had already learned by hard experience. Behind this intercommunication of resident centers is the increasing sophistication of the halfway house as a movement. It has been interesting to watch the organization of the individual houses as they band together to share information, enlist financial support, and continue the processes of expansion and improvement. It has been exciting to be a part of that movement as a member of the International Halfway House Association and its affiliation with the American Corrections Association.
While the relationship of the Christian Message is subject matter for an entire treatise, no satisfactory account of the Denton House could be presented with its exclusion. Nowhere within the program is any religious or religious activity forced upon any resident. The staff and Trustees, however, believe that no real adjustment can be made unless there is also an adjustment of the individual in terms of his relationship to his Creator and fellow creatures. The message of forgiveness and mercy are exceptionally related to the nature of the work. The motto on the halfway house stationery reads: "Peace, Forgiveness, and Anticipation of New Life." When a man is reconciled to God, how much easier it is to reconcile himself with his fellowman and his society.
It has been found that the program of the House, after a good deal of experimentation, must be carried out upon a rather authoritarian (controlled situation) basis. When the House was run on a basis where the resident did not feel he was taking part in a program that demanded something of his time and attention, very little could be accomplished. Quite often, the problem became extended to the point where the House was only a gimmick for sponsorship which the man would soon discard after release. Under these circumstances no order could be maintained since there was nothing within the program to demand compliance with rules, occupational assistance, or guidance. It was learned by way of some rough situations that in many cases "control is therapeutic."
Peculiarly enough, and much to the chagrin of the serious student of corrections, one is constantly affronted by those within other related occupations who are operating with some rather distorted and naive assumptions with regard to the nature of man. At this point, the author cannot but laud the biblical concept of looking at man's negative aspects as well as his positive. It is his opinion that if one is to overemphasize the latter at the cost of a realistic appraisal of the former, nothing can he accomplished of serious and lasting value. This opinion has been fortified by the perspective of a number of professionals who specialize in personality evaluation and seemingly have little understanding of the client's capacity for deception. While the author is uncertain as to how much can be accomplished in the fields of social welfare and counseling with such superficial assessment of the client, to operate so within this paricular sphere of rehabilitation is to relegate oneself to certain failure, not to mention the embarrassment. It is the nature of our clients to test and discover whatever weaknesses or loopholes exist within the system of counselor and then manipulate that system or person so as to gain their own ends. Until both parties are aware of this there is no common ground upon which to build any meaningful communication.
Finally, it is the belief of the author that the work of a halfway house must be operated upon an all-out basis of endeavor. By that, it is meant the House must possess a professionally respectable program and aim towards the hard-core "poor-risk" segment. When this is not the case, it is questionable whether its existence can be justified in terms of money, time, and prac ticality. When such is its goal, however, the halfway house far surpasses its worth as an investment transcending all frustrations with immeasurable value to society and its constituents.