Over the past several weeks, I have received numerous e-mails and calls from different individuals concerning federal halfway house placements that have been reduced significantly—or denied entirely—by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”).
What is going on? A variety of things, it seems.
I. Federal Halfway House – A Brief Overview
The BOP has long afforded inmates the opportunity to spend a portion of their final days of imprisonment in a federal halfway house. A few years back the BOP started calling federal halfway houses “Residential Re-Entry Centers,” or RRCs for short, but the name change did not materially affect the function of federal halfway houses—to provide a transitional period for prisoners releasing into the community. This transitional period allows prisoners to look for work, housing, and rebuild family/community ties
A. BOP’s Statutory Authority For Federal Halfway House Placements
The BOP’s authority to place inmates in a federal halfway house derives from two federal statutes:
- 18 U.S.C. 3621(b)
- 18 U.S.C. 3624(c)(1)
Section 3621(b) states, in relevant part, that:
The Bureau of Prisons shall designate the place of the prisoner’s imprisonment. The Bureau may designate any available penal or correctional facility that meets minimum standards of health and habitability established by the Bureau, whether maintained by the Federal Government or otherwise and whether within or without the judicial district in which the person was convicted, that the Bureau determines to be appropriate and suitable.
Section 3624(c)(1) provides:
The Director of the Bureau of Prisons shall, to the extent practicable, ensure that a prisoner serving a term of imprisonment spends a portion of the final months of that term (not to exceed 12 months), under conditions that will afford that prisoner a reasonable opportunity to adjust to and prepare for the reentry of that prisoner into the community. Such conditions may include a community correctional facility.
B. There Is No Limit On How Long A Federal Prisoner Can Be Placed In A Halfway House Under 18 U.S.C. 3621(b)
There is a common misbelief that federal prisoners are limited to 12 months of federal halfway house placement. While in practice most federal prisoners are never approved for more than 12 months of placement, the BOP has the authority to designate a federal halfway house as a prisoner’s place of imprisonment just like a Federal Correctional Institution or other BOP institution. This is because a federal halfway house is considered a “penal or correctional facility” within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. 3621(b). Elwood v. Jeter, 386 F.3d 842, 846-47 (8th Cir. 2004); Goldings v. Winn, 383 F.3d 17, 28-29 (1st Cir. 2004); Levine v. Apker, 455 F.3d 71, 82 (2d Cir. 2006).
The BOP recognizes this authority. In a November 14, 2008, memorandum entitled “Inmate Requests for Transfer to Residential Reentry Centers,” BOP’s former General Counsel, Kathleen Kenney, wrote that:
“Inmates are legally eligible to be placed in an RRC at any time during their prison sentence. Federal courts have made clear that RRCs are penal or correctional institutions within the meaning of applicable statutes. Staff cannot, therefore, automatically deny an inmate’s request for transfer to a RRC. Rather, inmate requests for RRC placement must receive individualized consideration. In other words, staff cannot say that an inmate, whatever the circumstances, is automatically ineligible for transfer to a RRC. Rather, staff must first review the inmate’s request on its individual merits, in accordance with policy, as explained in this guidance.
The memo further instructs BOP staff to consider requests for transfer to an RRC outside the normal pre-release time period “just as they would any other request for lower security transfer.” Such transfer requests are to be taken up in conjunction with the next scheduled Program Review.” However, the memo notes that an RRC transfer of this nature should not be approved unless “unusual or extraordinary” circumstances are present. What “unusual of extraordinary” means is left to the BOP’s discretion.
C. BOP’s “Pre-Release” Authority Under 18 U.S.C. 3624(c)(1) Allows The BOP To Place A Prisoner In A Federal Halfway House For Up To 12 Months
Most federal halfway house placements are made pursuant to the BOP’s authority under 18 U.S.C. 3624(c)(1). That statute allows the BOP to place prisoners in a federal halfway house for up to 12 months for “pre-release” reasons.
Since the enactment of the Second Chance Act in 2008, the BOP has developed a series of guidance memoranda about how to apply section 3624(c)(1). BOP’s first Second Chance Act memo about federal halfway house placements was issued April 14, 2008. A second RRC guidance memorandum was published June 24, 2010. And a third was released May 24, 2013.
The May 24, 2013, memorandum is entitled “Guidance for Home Confinement and Residential Reentry Center Placements,” and was issued by Blake R. Davis, Assistant Director of the Correctional Programs Division (who has since retired).
Because the May 24, 2013, memorandum is over four years old, I called the BOP Central Office in October 2017 to find out if a newer memo had been issued. After much back and forth, I was finally able to speak with Ms. Tracy Rivers in the Central Office who advised that there was “no newer memo.”
The May 24, 2013, memorandum is very specific about how federal halfway house placements should be handled. Generally speaking, though, the memorandum instructs BOP staff to conduct individualized federal halfway house placement decisions. The memo treats prisoners with longer sentences and fewer community ties as better candidates for longer federal halfway house placements. By contrast, "low risk" prisoners with a job and home to go should be sent to home confinement in lieu of federal halfway house placement, according to the memo.
Importantly, only the Warden may approve modifications to the length or type of placement. As the memo states:
If the RRM determines a modification to a referral is needed or that other placement options are available (such as direct home confinement for an inmate with low needs/risk or placement in a work release program for a higher security inmate), the change must be approved by the Warden. The RRM will contact the referring institution' s CMC and request the recommended modification be considered . The CMC will facilitate the Warden's review of the request and advise the RRM accordingly. Modifications can occur with the Warden' s consent.
D. Federal Prisoners May Be Placed On Home Confinement For The Last Ten Percent Of Their Sentence, Or Six Months, Whichever Is Less
By statute federal prisoners may be placed on home confinement for ten percent of their sentence, or six months, whichever is less. 18 U.S.C. 3624(c)(2). Thus, six months represents the upper limit on the length of home confinement placement when the sentence is five years or more. When a sentence is less than five years, the maximum amount of home confinement is ten percent of the total sentence.
The BOP’s May 24, 2013, memorandum also provides guidance on how BOP staff should handle home confinement placements. According to the memo:
For low need/low risk inmates, home confinement Is the preferred pre-release option . This option is currently under-utilized. Program Statement 7320. 01, Home Confinement, states supervision under home confinement may be provided by contract halfway house services, U.S. Probation or other government agencies.
This is normally accomplished via two home confinement options: placement under the supervision of an RRC or placement in the Federal Location Monitoring (FLM) program operated by U.S. Probation, where available. We must make a concerted effort to utilize these effective community placement options for appropriate inmates. In addition to reintegrating inmates more quickly into their communities, maximizing the use of home confinement for appropriate inmates will help mitigate our critical population/capacity issues.
The basic criteria for home confinement includes:
1) Appropriate release residence (e.g., positive environment free from criminal/drug use activity and a reasonable distance from the RRC , typically less than 100 miles);
2 ) No recent major disciplinary issues . This should be based on sound correctional judgment;
3) Any medical or mental health needs that can be met in the community and funded by the inmate or other documented resources, and
4 ) Secured employment is not required for placement on home confinement.
Placement should occur as close to the home confinement eligibility date as possible.
II. Why The BOP Is Reducing Or Cancelling Federal Halfway House Placements
The reduction and/or cancellation of federal halfway house placements began in the summer of 2017. The cancellations were prompted by the closure of 16 federal halfway houses which were previously under contract with the BOP. Each of these federal halfway houses had 25 or fewer beds. Justin Long, a spokesperson for the BOP, told Reuters news service that the BOP "had to make some modifications to our programs due to our fiscal environment."
Here is a list of the federal halfway houses that were closed:
Colorado Springs, CO -- Comcor, Inc
Ft. Collins, CO -- Larimer County Community Cntr
Madison, WI -- ARC Community Services
Mitchell, SD -- Dakota Counseling
Marquette, MI -- Great Lakes Recovery Center
Akron, OH -- Oriana House
Dayton, OH -- Alvis
Wheeling, WV -- Barnumm
Columbia, MO -- Reality House
Bingham, NY -- Volunteers of America
Ashland, KY -- Transitions
Durham, NC -- Transitions of Youth
Duluth, MN -- Duluth Bethel Society
Champaign, IL -- Prairie Center Health
Beaumont, TX -- Bannum
Butte, MT -- Community Counseling and Corrections
Apart from the closure of these federal halfway houses, though, it appears that, long "pre-release" federal halfway house placements will become the exception, rather than the norm, under the new administration.
III. What You Can Do If Your Federal Halfway House Time Was Cut
If you, or a loved one, were originally approved for a certain amount of halfway house--only to have that original release date stripped away--you have a few options.
- Challenge the change in placement through the BOP's Administrative Remedy Program. These reductions do not appear to be consistent with the BOP's guidance memoranda. The approval of a prisoner for a particular date represents the BOP's judgment that the prisoner needs that amount of time in a federal halfway house. To the extent the BOP truly cannot place a prisoner in a halfway house on his or her originally scheduled date, the BOP should work with the U.S. Probation Officer to place those affected prisoners on Federal Location Monitoring.
- Have your friend or loved one contact the BOP Residential Re-Entry Manager.
- Contact your U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator in the state of your residence. You can request constituent service for something like this.
- Litigation - while always an option there are many hurdles to challenging a reduced federal halfway house placement. And with the exhaustion of remedies requirement, the BOP very well may run out the clock on you through that process before you are released.
IV. Download A Copy Of This Article
If you would like to send a copy of this article to a friend or loved on in federal prison, you can download it here: