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.
At the peak in 2015, more than 10,600 prisoners resided in federal halfway houses. The number of inmates in home confinement—4,600—was up more than a third from the year before. In all, one in 14 of the people under Bureau of Prisons supervision was living at home or in a halfway house.
Since then, the population in halfway houses has dropped by 28 percent to 7,670. Home confinement is in freefall, down 61 percent to a population of 1,822. The majority of that cut has come in just the past year. Now only one in 20 people under federal supervision is in transitional housing. While the overall prison population has also fallen in recent years, the number of federal prisoners monitored in communities has dropped more sharply.