As discussed in this article, through the FIRST STEP Act Congress promulgated a mechanism by which prisoners will eventually be able to achieve both earlier pre-release transfers and placement on supervised release (i.e., reduction in sentence). Central to this initiative is development of a risk and needs assessment system. Yesterday, DOJ issued the Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Needs (“PATTERN”). Consistent with this press release, there is now a “45-day public study period” of PATTERN during which the public can submit comments to FirstStepAct@ojp.usdoj.gov.
Of possible interest to federal prisoners, those subject to a term of federal imprisonment and their respective attorneys and loved ones is this article I recently wrote for NACDL’s The Champion regarding the FIRST STEP Act. Among the provisions of the new law that the article addresses are the incentivized rehabilitative programming-based earned credit system, changes to motions for reduction in sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) (also known as “compassionate release”) that increase prisoners’ access to the courts, and an initiative by which “elderly” and “terminally ill” prisoners can secure earlier transfers to home confinement.
In 2002, the Bureau of Prisons, in response to an opinion by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, changed its halfway house policy, limiting placements to the final 10% of a prisoner’s sentence. As discussed here, this was a dramatic shift from the agency’s historic practices, which placed certain nonviolent offenders serving short sentences directly into halfway houses and made use of these prison facilities on the back-end of sentences to effectuate successful community re-integration. Following years of litigation, the Second Chance Act served to end the Bureau’s unlawful policy change, and, during the Obama administration, the Bureau began to make broader use of pre-release options, that is, both halfway houses and home confinement. (See here p. 38).
Over the last two years, there has been a growing body of anecdotal evidence that the Bureau has renewed efforts to restrict pre-release placements. Today, Justin George at The Marshal Project has published an excellent piece detailing the tensions between the President’s claimed interest in prison reform and the Attorney General’s interest in more severe penalties for criminal offenders:
Under the Obama administration, the number of federal prisoners in halfway houses and other transitional programs boomed. The federal government required the privately-run residences to provide mental health and substance abuse treatment, and the Department of Justice also increased access to ankle monitors so more prisoners could finish sentences in their own homes.
On Monday, via a video message posted on the Department of Justice’s Web site, Attorney General Holder announced changes to the Bureau of Prisons’ halfway house practices. As set forth in the accompanying press release:
Among the most significant changes Holder announced is the requirement for standardized Cognitive Behavioral Programming (CBP) to be offered at all federal halfway houses. This treatment will address behavior that places formerly incarcerated individuals at higher risk of recidivism. As part of this treatment requirement, BOP is setting guidelines for instructor qualifications, class size and length, and training for all staff at the halfway houses.
Several other modifications are being made to the standard contracts that apply to federal halfway houses in order to provide greater support to returning citizens. Examples include requiring halfway houses to provide public transportation vouchers or transportation assistance to help residents secure employment, requiring all federal halfway houses to allow residents to have cell phones to facilitate communication with potential employers and family, and improving and expanding home confinement by increasing the use of GPS monitoring.
Yesterday’s Seattle Times included an AP story concerning former Illinois Governor George Ryan’s anticipated transfer to a federal halfway house today, offering a “what life is like for a typical resident”:
Today’s New York Times includes a fairly damning article about Community First Services, a nonprofit group awarded a $29M contract to take over operation (from GEO Group) of a federal halfway house (a.k.a., Residential Reentry Center) in Brooklyn. The article begins:
In a story that highlights one of the media’s regular misconceptions (or mischaracterizations) about how the federal Bureau of Prisons operates, Cleveland’s NewsChannel5 reports that is investigators:
Continuing with the theme of the Bureau of Prisons’ seeming disregard for prisoners’ proximity to family and loved ones, as well as the ongoing problem of overcrowding, is this New York Times editorial concerning the new women’s facility in Aliceville, Alabama.