Recently, the Federal Bureau of Prisons began cutting off funding for halfway houses across the country. The effort to save money comes at the expense of inmates close to release. Approximately 16 Residential Re-entry Management Centers around the United States have seen or will see their contracts end, according to CNN.
Imagine spending 23 years behind bars. The world is different than when you went in. Technology and appliances evolve every few years. Next, think about how hard it is to find a job even with a college degree nowadays. How hard is it to get an apartment without good credit or steady employment? Many inmates embark on so many unknowns and uncertainties. Leaving prisons and being plunged back into society causes a great deal of anxiety to many inmates.
Hasn’t it hit home yet? Try this: Think about how you will feel when your kids are on their own. Now, add a criminal record to the equation. The problem becomes even more challenging. Everyone wants their kids to succeed. Hence, most parents help set their kids up with a great transition plan when they move out to ensure they don’t get into any trouble. The same consideration should apply in releasing inmates back into society.
Finally, imagine a grown man or woman in need of a transition plan. “Halfway houses, or “residential re-entry centers” help manage the transition for federal prisoners from incarceration to freedom. According to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the facilities “provide a safe, structured, supervised environment, as well as employment counseling, job placement, financial management assistance and other programs and services,” per CNN.
Despite the critical need for former inmates to transition out of prison into halfway houses, the BOP, under the overall leadership of Jeff Sessions, plans to eliminate 16 facilities. The list includes centers in Colorado, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Texas.
As a result of the cuts, inmates assigned to these facilities will remain in prison. “The cutback won’t necessarily mean that prisoners will go straight from prison to the outside world, but that it could diminish the time they spend getting acclimated to post-prison life,” stated Kara Gotsch, director of Strategic Initiatives for the Sentencing Project.
Crushing Blow to Inmates
This news is a crushing blow to inmates on the verge of release. In October, inmates contacted groups like Family Against Mandatory Minimums, Prisology, Candoclemency and other advocacy groups to voice their concerns about the unexpected closing.
Lamel Diggs, a 32-year inmate in a Mississippi prison received approval to stay at a halfway house for almost one year. He was excited about his upcoming transition to a property in Atlanta, Georgia. However, the afternoon before he was scheduled to leave, his case manager informed him that his allotted time was cut by approximately seven months.
As a resident at the halfway house, his reintegration services would include job training and drug counseling. Diggs lined up a job and was very eager to see his family. In preparation for his departure, his phone accounts and commissary were shut down. Although Diggs received pre-approval for his release, his denial at the last minute causes concerns.
Consequently, Diggs will remain in prison until May. All his plans have changed. His main concerns are the possibility of losing the job he secured. More importantly, his family continues to have an incarcerated loved one. Eventually, the BOP will return his phone accounts and commissary. However, he will remain without those services until he is reassigned access to them.
“As a Muslim and black man, I’m still being viewed as less than an animal,” stated Lamel Diggs.
Statistical Data on Recidivism
Within three years of release, approximately two-thirds (67.8%) of release inmates are rearrested. On average within five years of release, about three-quarters (76.6%) are rearrested, according to data from the National Institute of Justice.
Accordingly, studies show there is a slightly less recidivism rate of 60% for inmates released to a halfway house. Moreover, the purpose of a halfway house is to shorten the amount of time an inmate serves in prison. To achieve a successful re-integration inmates may benefit from the assistance offered.
These 16 cuts seem significant. However, the BOP reports that “they only affect areas with a small population and underutilized centers.” according to Reuters. One can only wonder if Jeff Sessions and others in leadership actually prefer that recidivism rates remain high. What do you think? Leave your opinion in the comments section below.
Inmates Voice Concerns about Cutbacks on Halfway Houses
Unfortunately, Diggs is not alone. Approximately 40 inmates across the country contacted organizations to inform them of the changes to their re-entry plans. Normally, the BOP may assign up to a year of residential re-entry. Going forward, this doesn’t seem to be the case.
Sources close to federal inmates cite reductions in time granted to stay at the halfway houses. Suddenly, the time granted changes from six to four months, or even from nine to two months. This change leaves inmates feeling deflated.
Donald Dover, another inmate shared, “We’re at the mercy of the BOP bureaucrats, who reshuffle people’s lives and plans.”
Custody of inmates at a Residential Re-entry Management Center (RRC)
While inmates are no longer at a federal prison and in a halfway house, they remain in the custody of the BOP. “Pre-release inmates at an RRC remain in Federal custody while serving a sentence imposed by a U.S. District Court or DC Superior Court. Offenders under the supervision of U.S. Probation or the Court of Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) are housed as a condition of their supervision.
Inmate Placement into an RRC
Approximately 17-19 months prior to an inmate’s release, the unit team makes an RRC referral recommendation at a scheduled program review. The unit team at a minimum consists of the inmates’ unit manager, case manager, and counselor. Inmates could receive RRC placement lasting up to 12 months.
The unit team will consider five criteria from 18 U.S.C. 3621(b)
- resources of the facility
- the nature and circumstances of the offense(s)
- the history and characteristics of the offender
- statement by the court that imposed the sentence concerning the purposes for which the sentence to imprisonment was determined to be warranted or recommending any type of penal or correctional facility as appropriate
- any pertinent policy statement issued by the U.S. Sentencing Commission
Therefore, the Justice Department’s decision to end contracts will more than likely mean inmates will stay in prison longer and have a tougher transition back to society.
In the meantime, GCE offers well-wishes to recently released clemency recipients.