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First Circuit Upholds BOP’s Discretion to Limit Halfway House Placement

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld the authority of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to limit halfway house placements.

In 2005, the BOP promulgated formal rules categorically limiting halfway house placement to the last ten percent of a prisoner’s sentence, not to exceed six months. [See, e.g.: PLN, Feb. 2006, p.10].

Richard Muniz and Victor Gonzalez, both federal prisoners, challenged the rules via petitions for writs of habeas corpus. They argued that the rules conflicted with the BOP’s statutory obligation to consider, on an individual basis, certain factors when making halfway house placements. The district court agreed and granted their petitions; the BOP appealed.

The First Circuit began its analysis with the text of the statute. Under 18 U.S.C. § 3621(b), the BOP is required to consider five factors when making halfway house placements. Several of those factors require individualized assessment. Unlike the Second, Third, Eighth and Tenth Circuits, though, the appellate court found the BOP’s use of categorical rulemaking to be an appropriate exercise of discretion. Accordingly, the First Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court. See: Muniz v. Sabol, 517 F.3d 29 (1st Cir. 2008), cert. denied.

The Court of Appeals noted, however, that if Congress was unhappy with the BOP’s categorical exclusion rule, it could easily correct it. With the passage of the Second Chance Act, it appears that Congress has taken steps to do so.

The Second Chance Act, signed into law on April 9, 2008, amended § 3621 to explicitly require individualized assessment of all BOP halfway house placement decisions. The Act further requires that the BOP give prisoners enough time in halfway houses to “provide the greatest likelihood of successful reintegration into the community.” The Act authorizes, but does not require, the BOP to place prisoners in halfway houses for up to one year. [See: PLN, Feb. 2009, p.8].

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Related legal case

Muniz v. Sabol