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Halfway House

Applications, Origins, Admission requirements

A live-in treatment facility for individuals who have completed inpatient, or hospital-based psychiatric treatment, but who are not prepared to make a full transition to independent living.

Halfway houses are typically staffed by therapists, counselors, social workers, other mental healthcare professionals, or lay-people with a background in the treatment area. Time spent both in and away from the house is highly structured. Residents are allowed to leave the facility for work and school, but are assigned housekeeping or other tasks that contribute to the house and its residents during their residential time. Attendance at on-site group therapy or support group meetings is usually required.

The average length of stay in a halfway house ranges from three months to a year. Both co-ed and gender specific halfway residences are in operation in the United States. Many halfway houses are converted apartment buildings or large private residences, and are often located in residential areas.


A period of residence in a halfway house is often recommended when a controlled social environment is critical for the patient's continued recovery (e.g., with individuals leaving inpatient alcohol and/or drug rehabilitation facilities), or in cases of long-term mental illness (e.g., schizophrenia) where vocational rehabilitation (job training) and development of life skills is required.

As its name implies, the halfway house is a transitional treatment setting halfway between the intensive structured setting of an inpatient facility and independent living. The halfway house is designed to put theories and new behaviors discussed and experimented with during treatment into actual practice. Patients can interact with peers and develop healthy social relationships in a safe environment. Ideally, the new life skills and coping techniques they acquire will become habit before the patient is released and reintegrated into the community.

Halfway houses geared towards individuals without chronic mental illnesses also exist. Halfway residences for battered and abused women are in operation, and these facilities frequently provide access to mental health counseling and support groups for their residents as well as job training to prepare them for financial independence. And in some states, halfway houses are used as a transitory residence for low-risk prisoners in order to keep prison populations down and facilitate the transition from prison life back into society.


In late 18th-century England, halfway houses were created to house, rehabilitate, and care for child criminals who were arrested for minor crimes such as theft. In 1896, Maud Ballington Booth, the co-founder of Volunteers of America and an advocate for prison reform, opened the first privately owned U.S. halfway house. Hope Hall No. 1, which was located in New York, met with great success, and Hope Hall No. 2 in Chicago soon followed. The halls were designed to reintroduce released convicts to the community, get them jobs, and nurse them back to health after serving their sentences in the disease-ridden prisons of the time. By 1902, over 3000 prisoners had passed through the doors of Hope Halls 1 and 2. The facilities declined in popularity after states began to adopt parole policies, but experienced a resurgence in popularity after World War II. Volunteers of America still operates Hope Hall facilities in conjunction with state correctional facilities today.

Admission requirements

Individuals who are considered to be at risk for harming themselves or others and those who have a history of fleeing treatment facilities are not suitable candidates for halfway house residency. Halfway houses usually require residents to be self-sufficient (e.g., hygiene and other basic self-care skills), and to be free of any severe physical impairment that would require ongoing medical care. Other requirements may exist for admittance into specific halfway house programs.

Paula Ford-Martin

Further Reading

Flannery, Mary and Mark Glickman. Fountain House: Portraits of Lives Reclaimed from Mental Illness. Center City, MN: Hazeldon Information & Educational Services, 1996.

Further Information

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). 6001 Executive Boulevard, Rm. 8184, MSC 9663, Bethesda, MD, USA. 20892-9663, fax: 301-443-4279, 301-443-4513. Email: nimhinfo@nih.gov. http://www.nimh.nih.gov.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Kenneth John William Craik Biography to Jami (Mulla Nuruddin ʼAbdurrahman ibn-Ahmad Biography