Halfway houses are supposed to serve prison inmates by acclimating them to life on the outside before they are fully released, thus reducing recidivism, while serving taxpayers by reducing the cost of incarceration.

Now, a stunning and brutally honest study by the Corbett administration has found that prisoners who are released through halfway houses are more likely to return to prison - a whopping 67 percent within three years of release - than those who are released directly from prison, 60 percent within three years.

Residence in a halfway house typically costs about two-thirds of what it costs to house inmates in state prisons. But the 11 percent difference in recidivism rates more than wipes out those savings.

The administration deserves great credit for the study because it flies in the face of a major state initiative that is in keeping with Gov. Tom Corbett's general philosophy of privatizing government functions. Pennsylvania now has contracts with 38 privately operated centers, for which it pays $110 million a year. As Corrections Secretary John Wetzel acknowledged in an interview with The New York Times, "the system has been an abject failure."

Mr. Wetzel, who has visited all of the public and private halfway houses statewide, said the focus has been on simply filling beds rather than on programming to fulfill the halfway house concept of helping inmates make a successful transition back into society.

In response to the study, the administration plans to tie contracts to outcomes rather than to merely housing inmates.

Recidivism long has been one of the most vexing problems in the prison system. The comprehensive study and the administration's straightforward reaction to it finally holds the prospect of moving the recidivism percentages in the right direction.

Whereas the Corbett administration has struggled in some areas, it has been a leader in using innovative methods to reduce inmate populations and their attendant costs.