Federal Prison Director Defends Halfway House Cuts

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House members pressed new federal prison director Mark Inch last week on his agency’s decision not to renew 16 of about 180 contracts for halfway houses, causing some of them to shut down, Mother Jones reports. “Can you explain the rationale…?” asked Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Inch, who started three months ago, tried to assure Cummings. “There is absolutely no intent to cut back in the program,” he said. The contracts that weren’t renewed would only affect underused houses in low-population areas, about 1 percent of the total bed space for federal halfway houses nationally. The changes, he said, were intended to make the reentry system more efficient.

Inmates and halfway house operators say otherwise. Hundreds of prisoners have reached out to the advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums, complaining that their halfway house dates have been delayed or their time in the houses has been significantly reduced. “The impact is widespread,” says the group’s Molly Gill. “We’re talking thousands of inmates probably whose dates are being pushed back.” The Bureau of Prisons changed the rules for many halfway houses, requiring them to host fewer inmates, says Anne Connell-Freund of the International Community Corrections Association, a trade organization of halfway house operators. As waitlists for beds grow, some inmates are being held longer in already overcrowded prisons. Federal lockups were 14 percent over capacity during the last fiscal year. BOP told halfway houses they’ll no longer receive funding for cognitive behavioral therapy or to hire social services coordinators who help people line up jobs and housing, get driver’s licenses, and learn how to use cellphones and other technologies they missed in prison. From late 2013 to mid-2016, about 37 percent of federal inmates leaving prisons went to halfway houses.

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