The Second Chance Act of 2007 (SCA) clarified how much time federal prison inmates are to be considered to spend in halfway houses (or residential reentry centers – RRCs). (Click here to read more about the SCA.) Previously, the BOP’s policy was that inmates could only spend six months or 10% of their sentence, whichever was less, in a halfway house at the end of their sentences. Under the SCA, federal prisoners are ensured consideration for up to a year in a halfway house. The SCA requires BOP staff to assess each federal prisoner individually to determine if and for how long they should be transferred to a halfway house.
On April 14, 2008, after the SRA became law, the BOP issued a memo instructing BOP staff that it believed that most prisoners’ reentry needs could be met by a six-month or less stay in a halfway house, and that any warden’s recommendation of more than six months would require written approval by the regional director. Click here to read the BOP’s April 14, 2008 memo.
Important note: While the SRA clarified the BOP’s authority to place a prisoner in a halfway house and guaranteed that all prisoners would be considered for a maximum halfway house stay of 12 months, it does not guarantee that federal prisoners will spend 12 months or any time at all in a halfway house.
On June 24, 2010, the BOP issued a new halfway house memo, named “Revised Guidance for Residential Reentry Center (RRC) Placements.” It instructs BOP staff to use halfway house placements strategically, to increase the prisoner’s chances at a crime-free life. It also makes several notable changes to past BOP policies concerning halfway house placement:
- Staff are no longer required to seek Regional Office approval for halfway house transfer recommendations greater than 6 months;
- If Community Corrections Management (CCM) staff disagree with the BOP’s decision about the appropriateness or length of the referral to a halfway house, the CCM staff must inform the BOP. They cannot unilaterally deny a prisoner placement in a halfway house or postpone the date the prisoner is sent to a halfway house unless the halfway house lacks bed space or resources to accept the prisoner;
- BOP staff may now consider sending prisoners with serious medical or mental health conditions directly to home confinement rather than to a halfway house, if the halfway house cannot accommodate the prisoner and appropriate arrangements can be made for community support for a prisoner placed on home detention;
- Federal prisoners may now turn down placement in a halfway house without being subject to disciplinary action;
- Federal prisoners who have had some disciplinary problems or who have refused to participate in some prison programming (e.g., treatment, education) may still be placed in halfway houses if, in the staff’s judgment, the prisoner is deemed ready to take advantage of the opportunities and expanded liberties of halfway houses;
- All prisoners should be considered for at least 90 days in a halfway house, and prisoners at higher risk of recidivating should be considered for longer placements than lower-risk inmates;
- Minimum-security inmates (except RDAP program graduates) with an approved release residence may be considered for a direct transfer to home confinement on the prisoner’s home confinement eligibility date (the lesser of 6 months or ten percent of the prisoner’s term of imprisonment), rather than being transferred to a halfway house first. This direct transfer to home confinement can be made even if it means that the prisoner will be on home confinement for less than 90 days;
- CCM staff must ensure that procedures are in place so that eligible minimum-security inmates may be (1) placed directly on home confinement or, (2) if not directly placed on home confinement, they may be released to home confinement after staying only 14 days or less in a halfway house. Additionally, CCM staff must explain to the BOP why eligible minimum-security inmates in halfway houses are not transferred to home detention within this time-frame.
- Higher-risk inmates who have a high risk of reoffending, who have completed many prison programs, and who still need to establish a community support system will be considered for longer halfway house placements.
The BOP’s new memo to its staff is a positive development. The new memo gives BOP staff far more discretion about how much time prisoners must serve in halfway houses, who should be placed in a halfway house, and who may be placed directly on home confinement. The new memo does not guarantee that any prisoner will get out of prison sooner, go directly to home confinement, or get more time in a halfway house – these decisions are still entirely within the discretion of BOP staff members. Click here to read a full copy of the BOP’s new guidance memo.
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