Everyone facing time in federal prison looks forward to putting the confinement portion of his predicament in the past. Transitions to home come in gradual stages, beginning with time in a halfway house or on home confinement, which is part of a system known as Residential Reentry Centers (RRC).
Residential Reentry Centers
Access to the halfway house changed in 2008, when President Bush signed The Second Chance Act into law. The legislation included numerous funding features that were designed to improve an inmate’s prospects for success once he returned to society. For individuals who served time in custody, however, the Act had one extremely appealing benefit: an opportunity to leave confinement sooner. Prior to the Act’s passage, the BOP could authorize an inmate to serve up to the final six months of his sentence in a halfway house. Since most prisoners wanted to return to society as quickly as possible, they gladly accepted those six months.
With the Second Chance Act, Case Managers in the Bureau of Prisons could transfer eligible individuals to “community confinement” for up to the final year of the individual’s sentence. Further, individuals could serve the final six months of the sentence under conditions known as home confinement. That advantage made a big difference for federal inmates.
Applying for the Halfway House:
When an inmate advances to within 18 months of his scheduled release date, the Case Manager will begin preparing paperwork for the inmate’s halfway house placement. The Case Manager will use discretion in determining the appropriate length of time for the inmate’s placement in a halfway house. Although the Second Chance Act provided for inmates to receive up to one year of halfway house placement, the Act doesn’t require the BOP to grant the entire year.
According to BOP rules, the Case Manager will give “individualized consideration” to each prisoner when deciding when to transfer an inmate to a halfway house. Since the halfway house is still a place of confinement, the Case Manager considers all factors that are mentioned in Title 18 United States Code, Section 3621 (b), which include:
- The resources of the facility contemplated (such as whether there is bed space available);
- The nature and circumstances of the offense;
- The history and characteristics of the prisoner;
- Any statement by the court that imposed the sentence, including
- Statements the judge made concerning the purposes for which the sentence to imprisonment was determined to be warranted; or
- Statements the judge made recommending a type of penal or correctional facility as appropriate; and
- Any pertinent policy statement issued by the Sentencing Commission.
The Case Manager has enormous discretion when considering when to transfer an inmate to the halfway house. At Prison Professor, we’ve worked with inmates who aspire to argue that they’re deserving of the maximum one-year in a halfway house. For those who study our articles independently, we encourage them to have a plan in place to prepare for halfway house placement at the earliest possible time—preferably before they begin serving the sentence.
Eligibility for Halfway House:
Some people will not qualify for halfway house placement because of the nature of their offense. For example, inmates with violent criminal histories, ties to organized crime, or sex offenders may not be allowed to transfer to a halfway house. Case Managers may also refuse to consider inmates if they:
- Received numerous disciplinary infractions,
- Did not participate successfully in the financial responsibility program (FRP),
- Did not participate in a sufficient number of other BOP programs,
- Have outstanding criminal charges against them,
- Face deportation from the United States.
If a person doesn’t fall into one of the above-mentioned categories, the Case Manager will likely transfer the inmate to a halfway house at the end of the sentence—provided that the inmate wants to transfer. Not all people want to transfer to a halfway house for the final portion of the sentence. As unlikely as it may seem, some inmates prefer to conclude their entire portion of confinement inside of a federal prison rather than transfer to a halfway house.
Reasons that inmates may refuse to accept placement in a halfway house include:
- People in minimum-security camps sometimes say that they don’t want to transfer to a halfway house because they don’t want to live in close proximity with inmates who transferred from higher-security prisons.
- People may not want to transfer to halfway houses because they have grown comfortable in their current surroundings and do not want to endure another difficult or disruptive transition.
- People may not want to transfer to halfway houses because they do not want to have to contend with all of the new rules that the halfway house will impose.
- Some people believe that living in a halfway house is too expensive.
Although each individual must make up his own mind on whether a halfway house will serve his interests, at Prison Professor, we encourage individuals to leave prison at the soonest possible time.
Home Confinement is another form of community confinement. While on Home Confinement, an inmate is able to live at home with family. In most cases, the inmate begins in a halfway house. Then, after staff members in the halfway house complete their assessment, they transfer the inmate to home confinement as soon as he is eligible. The Second Chance Act provides that an inmate may serve up to the final six months of the sentence on Home Confinement.
In some instances, the judge imposes a split sentence. That sentence may require a period of time in prison, followed by a period of time on Home Confinement. If the judge orders such a sentence, the inmate may transfer directly from the prison to home confinement. In that situation, the inmate concludes his obligation to the BOP when his time in custody ends, and he transitions to the custody of a federal probation officer.
The probation officer rather than BOP of halfway house personnel will oversee inmate’s who serve a split sentence—while he is on the home confinement portion of the sentence. In the majority of cases, however, staff members of the halfway house oversee the inmate while he serves the portion of his sentence on home confinement.
Frequently, the halfway house will make use of an electronic monitoring device for inmates on home confinement. Prison Professor discusses these issues later in the lesson. First we will address the halfway house, since the halfway house comes first for most inmates.
The Bureau of Prisons refers to halfway houses at Residential Reentry Management Centers, or RRCs; at Prison Professor, we use the term RRC and halfway house interchangeably. Prior to Case Managers transferring an inmate to an RRC, they change the inmate to “community custody,” meaning the inmate may return to society without supervision.
The long-awaited release date begins when administrators page his name to the Receiving and Discharge area of the prison (R&D). Staff members will take the inmate’s fingerprints one last time. Then they will issue him any financial resources that may have been remaining in his various accounts, including his commissary, telephone, and email accounts. If the inmate has a high balance, staff members may give him a portion in currency and mail the remainder to an address that the inmate provides.
The inmate will transfer from the prison to the RRC via a “furlough” transfer. Staff members will provide the inmate with travel accommodations if necessary, such as a bus pass and a plane ticket. In the alternative, an inmate’s family members may pick him up and transport him to the halfway house. The Case Manager will provide the inmate with a detailed itinerary and the inmate must agree to abide by that itinerary.
During the entire halfway house process, the inmate remains in the “custody” of the Bureau of Prisons. At all times, the inmate must abide by BOP rules or he will be subject to a disciplinary infraction that could return him to prison. The Case Manager will admonish him prior to his departure from the institution and the staff members at the halfway house will warn him of his precarious liberty upon arrival.
Funding Halfway Houses:
Private companies own and operate federal halfway houses. They are part of the “private prison” movement, where companies contract with government agencies to oversee inmates. As private companies, the organizations that operate halfway houses strive to earn a profit. The contract an RRC has with the federal government provides only part of the funding stream; the second part of the funding stream comes from the inmates. In exchange for the privilege of living in a halfway house, the inmate must forfeit 25 percent of his gross earnings. To put that in perspective, consider the following:
- An inmate secures a job that pays $10 per hour.
- The inmate works 40 hours each week.
- The inmate’s gross pay amounts to $400 per week.
- The inmate must provide the halfway house with a $100 money order within 24 hours of his receiving the paycheck.
- The inmate must pay $1 to purchase the money order.
- The inmate must pay $60 in taxes and other employment-related deductions.
- The inmate must pay $20 in fees for public transportation.
- After all expenses, the inmate’s 40 hours worth of work results in his disposable income being less than $180 per week of employment.
- From disposable income, the inmate must purchase clothing, food, and pay personal expenses.
As part of the prison system, the halfway house will provide inmates with three meals each day and living quarters. Since the private prison companies that operate federal halfway houses focus on earning a profit, they ordinarily locate the structures in low-income, high-crime areas where property values are less expensive. Inmates who report to the RRC should prepare themselves in advance for the volatility. They are co-ed, and programs exist that allow women with infants to keep their babies with them in the RRC.
Upon surrendering to the halfway house, a Case Manager will go through an intake process that includes:
- Fingerprint and mug shot of the inmate.
- Inventory of the inmate’s personal belongings.
- Completion of forms that provide personal characteristics of the inmate.
- Complete overview of rules with which the inmate must comply while in the halfway house.
- Providing the inmate with blankets and assigning him quarters.
Most halfway houses previously operated as different types of structures. Many were once apartment buildings, or hotels, or some other type of commercial building. As such, there is far less architectural uniformity than in prison. Some will have 10-person rooms complete with kitchenettes; others will have two-person rooms with nothing more than a shower and bathroom.
Inmates will also have access to a dining area, a visiting area, and a small area for recreation. Classrooms will be available for inmates to participate in mandatory classes, and an employment center where they can access computers with Internet access; federal inmates cannot have personal computers of their own while in the halfway house.
Access to personal belongings will differ, too. In some halfway houses, inmates will be able to keep smartphones with them at all times. In other halfway houses, inmates will be able to keep cellphones with them provided that the cellphones do not have Internet access or photo-taking abilities. In other halfway houses, inmates will not be able to keep cellphones with them at all. The inmates must surrender their cellphones to one of the officers upon checking into the halfway house, and they may take them out whenever they leave the halfway house.
In March of 2014, Attorney General Holder announced that the Department of Justice would impose reforms on halfway house operations. One of those reforms would require halfway houses to authorize inmate access to cellphones.
Yet several months after Mr. Holder’s announcement, Prison Professor continued to receive reports from clients who served time in halfway houses around the country. Several of those inmates reported that the halfway house where they were concluding their sentences interpreted Mr. Holder’s statement differently. In those facilities, an inmate could have access to a cellphone, but he could not use the cellphone while in the halfway house. They maintained rules that required the inmates to check their cellphone out upon leaving the facility, and checking it back in when they returned.
Some halfway houses allow inmates to purchase televisions and electronic equipment so they could watch videos or play games. For the most part, as long as the equipment doesn’t provide access to the Internet, halfway house staff will allow it. The halfway house will authorize inmates to keep personal clothing in their rooms, also.
Inmates who have resources may obtain permission to drive. The Case Manager in the halfway house will have to inspect the vehicle. Then the Case Manager will ask for copies of the vehicle’s registration and insurance forms. If the car is not in the inmate’s name, the inmate will need a notarized letter from the car’s owner that shows the inmate is authorized to drive the car. The inmate must provide the Case Manager with information about where he is parking the car and the inmate must make the car available for an at-will search; any staff member from the halfway house may request to search the vehicle.
The halfway house will authorize the inmate to have a savings account and a debit card, but the inmate may not have a checking account or a credit card. The Bureau of Prisons does not permit the inmate to apply for credit while he is serving his sentence; as long as the inmate is in the halfway house, he is still serving his sentence.
Since the halfway houses hold both men and women of every security level, administrators will place surveillance cameras in strategic locations throughout the facility. Further, they will implement many different types of accountability metrics to keep track of the inmates. Those accountability metrics will require the inmates to obtain “passes” from the Case Manager whenever the inmate leaves the halfway house. Inmates may leave the halfway house for reasons that include:
- Recreation Pass: Each day, rules will permit an inmate to leave the halfway house for one hour of recreation. An inmate may lose this privilege for violating rules of the halfway house.
- Employment Search Pass: Inmates may request a pass that permits him to search for a job. The inmate must provide the Case Manager with an itinerary prior to leaving. Upon arriving at the intended location, the inmate must make a phone call to the RRC with news that he has arrived. Upon leaving, the inmate must make another call to the halfway house to inform staff that he is leaving. The inmate must also bring back some type of verification that shows where he was.
- Employment Pass: If an inmate receives a job, the Case Manager will provide an ongoing work pass. The work pass will detail the hours that the inmate may be away from the halfway house. The inmate’s paycheck will serve as validation that the inmate was indeed at work. The inmate should expect that representatives from the halfway house will visit the inmate’s place of employment at least once each month. Further, the halfway house has discretion on whether it will allow an inmate to accept a specific job. Some Case Managers will not allow an inmate to work for businesses owned by family members, friends, or people they knew prior to confinement. They also may impose restrictions, curfews, or requirements that complicate employment. The inmate must navigate all challenges that the Case Manager in the halfway house presents.
- School Pass: An inmate may apply to attend school while in the halfway house. The halfway house may approve that request to attend school. If the inmate attends school but doesn’t have a job, the inmate will not make payments to live in the halfway house.
- Weekly Passes: Inmates who comply with the rules of the halfway house will become eligible for increasing liberties on pass. An inmate generally becomes eligible for such passes within the first few weeks in the halfway house. Once eligible, the first week’s pass may be for four hours. The second week’s pass may be for eight hours. The third week’s pass may be for 16 hours. The fourth week’s pass may be for 24 hours. After the inmate completes the first 24-hour pass, the inmate will receive a 48-hour passes. The halfway house will impose accountability metrics for inmates on the weekly passes. Those rules will require the inmate to call into the halfway house as frequently as every two hours. A halfway house representative must visit the inmate’s home for an inspection prior to allowing the inmate to go on a home pass. The representative will want to speak with any other adults that are living in the residence.
While on any pass from the halfway house, BOP rules prohibit the inmate from drinking alcohol. At all times that the inmate is under the jurisdiction of the BOP, rules consider him “in custody,” and subject to appropriate rules. Violating those rules may result in his return to prison.
Drug or Counseling Programs:
If an inmate received the benefit of the Residential Drug Awareness Program, the halfway house will require the inmate to participate in weekly counseling sessions. Once each week, rules will require the inmate to attend a group-counseling session. Once every other week, the rules will require the inmate to participate in a one-on-one session with the drug-treatment counselor. This after-care program lasts for six months after the inmate is released from prison, and the counseling is mandatory—a condition for securing the one-year time cut. Staff members may return inmates to prison if they fail to complete the aftercare program, and the one-year time cut will be reversed.
Besides the drug program, halfway house authorities may require the inmate to participate in a series of other programs. Those programs may include:
- Cognitive behavior therapy programs.
- Anger-management programs.
- Parenting programs.
- Job-search programs.
- Resume-building programs.
- Financial budgeting programs.
- Credit-counseling programs.
Case Managers in the halfway house may require inmates to participate in many programs as a condition for receiving certain passes that provide access to their time in the community.
Case Managers will require inmates in the halfway house to submit urine tests. If an inmate received the benefit of the RDAP program, or if the Case Manager identifies the inmate as being susceptible to drug use, the inmate will have to submit a urine test every week—or on demand. If the inmate is considered low-risk with regard to substance abuse, the Case Manager will require the inmate to submit a urine test once each month.
Structure of time in halfway house:
Case Managers will require the inmate to attend a weekly meeting. During that meeting, the Case Manager will use a series of forms as a guide through a personal interview. Questions will include:
- Tell me about your progress over the week.
- What is going on at work?
- What have you learned about living in society?
- What challenges did you face?
- How many hours did you work?
- Were you ever late for work?
- What counseling sessions did you attend?
- How much money did you spend?
- How much money did you save?
- What did you do on your pass?
Inmate responses to those questions will go into a file that the Case Manager keeps on the inmate. The Case Manager will use those reports as a basis for progress reports that the Bureau of Prisons requires.
As the inmate advances to within six months of his release date, the halfway house will initiate proceedings to transfer the inmate to home confinement. Some inmates transition to home confinement soon after they arrive at the halfway house; the determining factor will be at what stage of the sentence the Case Manager from the BOP authorized the transition from prison to the RRC. Prior to allowing the inmate to transition to home confinement, the Case Manager in the halfway house will need approval from the federal probation officer.
Some—though not all—halfway houses require an inmate to submit to electronic monitoring while on home confinement. In those facilities, the Case Manager will affix a bracelet around the inmate’s ankle. Some halfway houses make use of ankle bracelets that come equipped with a device that works together with a Global Positioning System (GPS) that monitors the inmate’s movement; other electronic bracelet’s work in tandem with a “home base” that the inmate must plug into the landline phone system at his residence. Once the Case Manager affixes the electronic bracelet to the inmate’s ankle, the inmate cannot remove it. He must wear the bracelet to bed, to the shower, and everywhere he goes. If he tampers with the electric bracelet, the system will notify the halfway house electronically, which could result in an arrest.
Regardless of whether an inmate has electronic monitoring, the halfway house will require him to abide by all rules while on home confinement. To track the inmate’s accountability, the Case Manager will issue a curfew, clearly defining when the inmate can be away from his home. Ordinarily, the Case Manager will require that the inmate be within 50-feet of his residence whenever he is not on approved pass. The halfway house may require check-in calls as frequently as every two hours.
While on home confinement, the inmate will still be required to forfeit 25% of his gross pay. Further, the Case Manager will require the inmate to report back to the halfway house each week for the progress-report interview.
Despite all of those challenges and complications, our experts at Prison Professor unanimously agree that it’s in every inmate’s interest to leave the Federal Bureau of Prisons at the soonest possible time. At any time, complications can erupt while inside of a Federal Prison. That doesn’t mean complications vanish in the halfway house, as the above description shows. Still, if an inmate can return to society, he can significantly advance his efforts to begin rebuilding his life. For that reason, we encourage inmates to understand how the system operates, and to position themselves well for maximum consideration under the Residential Release Center program.
- How would time in a Residential Release Center influence your life?
- If you were in a halfway house, how would you explain the situation to a prospective employer?
- In what ways could you prepare yourself for the inevitable frustrations of living in a halfway house?
- How might living in the midst of inmates who served time in higher security levels challenge you?
- What steps could you envision taking from the start of your sentence to build a record that would position you for maximum placement in a halfway house?