Intermediary workers: Narratives of supervision and support work within the halfway house setting

Date01 December 2020
Published date01 December 2020
AuthorKatharina Maier
Subject MatterArticles
PRB962191 410..426
The Journal of Community and Criminal Justice
Probation Journal
2020, Vol. 67(4) 410–426
ª The Author(s) 2020
workers: Narratives
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0264550520962191
of supervision and
support work within
the halfway
house setting
Katharina Maier
University of Winnipeg, Canada
Drawing on interviews with halfway house staff, this article provides insight into how
these workers conceive of their work and occupational identities within the specific
context of the halfway house. Specifically, I examine how halfway house workers seek
to differentiate their work and approach to governing former prisoners from that of
parole officers. I demonstrate how halfway house workers in this study capitalized on
their intermediary position as quasi-state agents, using meso-level complications and
struggle to carve out a space in which they felt empowered to carry out multiple, and
sometimes conflicting, agendas in their everyday work with halfway house residents.
halfway houses, prisoner re-entry, reintegration, occupational identities, supervision
Recent scholarship in the area of prisoner re-entry highlights that in addition to
constituting an individual process (Visher and Travis, 2003), prisoner re-entry bears
important organizational dimensions (e.g. Kaufman, 2015, 2018; Mijs, 2016;
Corresponding Author:
Katharina Maier, Department of Criminal Justice, University of Winnipeg, 515 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg,
Canada, MB R3B 2E9.

Miller, 2014; see also Kaufman et al., 2016). Existing research on the ‘organiza-
tional reality of prisoner re-entry’ (Mijs, 2016: 292) has focused on the work of non-
governmental prisoner re-entry organizations – organizational hybrids located at
the intersection of the penal and the welfare state (Miller, 2014) – and, more spe-
cifically, the ways in which re-entry workers conceive of and seek to reconfigure ex-
prisoners’ conduct, social relationships, and inner selves (see also Halushka,
2016). This article adds to this expanding body of work by examining the narratives
of halfway house workers with a focus on how these workers see themselves, their
workplace roles, and the settings in which they work. Halfway house workers’
perspectives warrant scholarly attention, not only because halfway houses present
an important organizational force in the context of re-entry (Maier 2020a; 2020b;
Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), 2014) but also because of these workers’
liminal or intermediary position as quasi-state agents who operate at the intersection
of supervision and care work.
In Canada, the field site of this research, the majority of halfway houses are run
by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Workers at these houses are charged
by the Canadian state with the hybrid task of providing re-entry support and
supervision to recently released prisoners (CSC, 2014). These workers also occupy
an intermediary role. By this I mean, they are responsibilized by the government to
support and supervise ex-prisoners, but ultimately they are not invested with the
authority to make decisions regarding halfway house residents’ legal future. I
demonstrate how halfway house workers in this study capitalized on this inter-
mediary position, using meso-level complications and struggle to carve out a space
in which they felt empowered to carry out multiple, and sometimes conflicting,
agendas in their everyday work with halfway house residents. I use meso-level to
refer to participants’ shared beliefs regarding the nature and characteristics of
halfway houses as penal sites, as well as the nature of their work as halfway house
staff, including the group-level factors that staff thought distinguished them from
other penal workers. As this article shows, staff’s narratives were informed by their
shared beliefs regarding both their own occupational role and the role of state-
employed parole officers. In addition to examining how halfway house workers’
intermediary position shaped the ways in which they constructed their own occu-
pational identities, I also discuss how their conceptions of halfway house residents
were shaped by and shaped their position as intermediary workers. Specifically, I
reflect on how their intermediary position impacted the ways in which these re-entry
workers sought to accept but also deflect responsibility for halfway house residents’
re-entry, care, and legal future.
Drawing on interviews with 15 halfway house workers, the overall goal of this
article is to bring more focus to the perceptions and everyday practices of the
diversity of actors involved in the governance of ex-prisoners during the early stages
of re-entry. Halfway house workers’ narratives provide grounded insights into the
hybrid and variegated character of the penal system (Beckett and Murakawa,
2012) by showing, more concretely, how it can contain within its broad reach
workers who often understand themselves as working progressively and/or bene-
volently outside of, or even against, a more repressive and punitive apparatus (see

Probation Journal 67(4)
also Singh, 2011). Moreover, the article, by shedding light on the to-date under-
studied institution of the halfway house, seeks to advance our understanding of the
spaces and places where post-custodial supervision and rehabilitation are enacted
(see Carr, 2018), thereby adding to scholarship on other sites of supervision in the
community (see Irwin-Rogers, 2017).
Halfway houses in Canada
In Canada, federal prisoners (i.e. those sentenced to a term of imprisonment of two
years or more) are typically eligible for supervised release after serving 1/3 of their
sentence inside prison. The Parole Board of Canada regularly applies residency
conditions to a person’s conditional release that require them to live in a community-
based residential facility, commonly referred to as a halfway house, for a certain
period of time – typically six months – following release from custody (Bell and
Trevethan, 2004). Such residency requirements are officially intended to enhance
public safety and to facilitate prisoners’ re-entry into the community through ongoing
supervision and rehabilitative programming (CSC, 2014). As noted by Turnbull and
Hannah-Moffat (2009), halfway houses in particular are described by the Cana-
dian government as settings that will ‘allow the paroled subject to gradually
establish herself in the community’ while residing in a safe, structured, and con-
trolled environment (p. 546).
Canadian halfway houses are run by different NGOs that the Canadian gov-
ernment funds for the management of ex-prisoners. There exist around 150 NGO-
run halfway house facilities for federal ex-prisoners, in addition to a small number of
state-run halfway houses, officially referred to as community correctional centres.
Halfway houses, according to the CSC, ‘work on a system of gradual, supervised
release’ and provide ‘a bridge between the institution and the community’ (CSC,
2014). Research has shown that ‘conditional release is more effective in promoting
a prisoner’s successful reintegration into society as a law-abiding citizen than would
be his/her sudden freedom – at sentence expiry – without any assistance or
supervision’ (Doob et al., 2014: 305). Halfway houses therefore present a central
organizational force in the penal system and specifically in the realm of prisoner re-
Ex-prisoners on supervised release remain in a liminal state (Werth, 2012) and
halfway house residents specifically can be said to experience a ‘legal and civil
purgatory’ (Gottschalk, 2011) – an intermediate or provisional state during which
they have to prove that they are worthy of full release without continued supervision
(see Author). Halfway house residents are typically required to be physically present
at the halfway house overnight (for at least six consecutive hours). In addition, they
must report to the halfway house, in person or over the phone, by 6 p.m. daily, a
curfew set by CSC. If a resident fails to comply, halfway house workers are
required, as per their contracts with the Canadian government, to report such lack
of compliance either to the parole officer of the resident or to what is called the
National Monitoring Centre (NMC) – a centralized operational centre, located in
Canada’s capital city Ottawa, that oversees all halfway house and other community

operations across Canada. While halfway house workers advise parole officers
regarding residents’ progress (in terms of employment, treatment, and general
behaviour at the halfway house), the ultimate supervision authority lies with the
Canadian government. Halfway house workers, as such, cannot revoke a person’s
parole and return them to prison.
Halfway houses combine state rules with their own rule regime. Beyond the state-
required daily 6 p.m. report, halfway houses exercise considerable autonomy in
terms of imposing additional rules, including other curfews. Although these addi-
tional halfway house rules are not government mandated, resident violations of such
rules must still be reported to the parole officer. The fact that only part of the
supervision regime is regulated by the government, while the rest is constructed
autonomously by usually NGO-run halfway houses, makes halfway houses a par-
ticularly fruitful site for studying how halfway house workers operate under and
negotiate the constraints imposed by the state and how they seek to...

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