Federal Halfway House Closures Threaten to Extend Prison Time, Delay Reentry
by Derek Gilna
The Trump administration has proposed a reduced budget for the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) that would require the agency to cut its staff. As another result of budget cuts, the BOP has quietly terminated the contracts for more than a dozen halfway houses. Consequently, federal prisoners who had already received placement dates at those post-release facilities will spend more time in prison, and will have even less time to organize their reentry process of finding employment and housing.
At least sixteen halfway house contracts have been cancelled as of October 2017 according to BOP spokesman Justin Long, who claimed it was due to financial reasons. “The Bureau remains firmly committed to these practices, but has had to make some modifications to our programs due to our fiscal environment,” he said.
However, it is well known that it is more expensive to keep a person in prison than in a halfway house, and it is even more costly to re-incarcerate someone who has violated his terms of supervised release, perhaps because he was given insufficient time to prepare for that release. Halfway houses have been under greater pressure in recent years due to the large number of prisoners transitioning from prison to society – around 60,200 federal prisoners were released in 2015, and most went to halfway houses or were placed in home confinement.
The Bureau of Prisons’ website indicates it has contracts with 171 halfway houses, also known as Residential Reentry Centers (RRCs), nationwide. The BOP claims that the reduction in halfway houses will impact only 1 percent of affected prisoners nearing release, but a prisoners’ rights organization says the number is much higher.
RRCs, which have been used for almost 50 years, are considered to be a critical component of the reentry process by not only prisoners and their families but also by judges, who are concerned that the closures have forced prisoners into halfway house placements far removed from where they may have arranged post-release employment and housing.
Chief U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez, in the Western District of Washington, said he had contacted BOP Director Mark Inch to object to the reduction in halfway house contracts, stating, “From our perspective, these facilities are not only useful – they are essential.”
Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), was also critical of the RRC reductions. “We need to improve re-entry services,” he noted. “This move flies in the face of that consensus.... Is cutting re-entry opportunities really going to make us safer? Congress needs to ask the Justice Department if this is part of their strategy.”
According to Ring, “The BOP has said the closures have impacted just 1 percent of available [RRC] beds, but the stories we’re hearing from across the country suggest the problem is much more widespread. Even prior to the recent closures, the BOP did not have enough halfway house space to meet demand.”
Sources: www.npr.org, www.usnews.com, www.famm.org