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EXPERT AVAILABLE: MU Expert Says Bureau of Prisons Should Increase Halfway House Placement for Former Inmates

Oct. 12, 2011

Story Contact(s):
Nathan Hurst, hurstn@missouri.edu, 573-882-6217

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Corrections officials nationwide released more than 700,000 prisoners into their communities in 2008; at least 50,000 of those were released from federal custody. Upon release, ex-offenders are often homeless, unemployed, and suffer from untreated substance abuse addictions. S. David Mitchell, an associate professor of law at the University of Missouri School of Law, says that despite legislation that allows the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to provide longer halfway house stays, the BOP is ignoring that mandate and limiting the inmates’ time to no more than six months.

Congress passed the Second Chance Act in 2007, which increased the time that inmates may spend in halfway houses to 12 months in an effort to improve their transition from incarceration to law-abiding citizenry. It also required individualized inmate assessments prior to placement in a halfway house. The BOP has complied with the assessment requirement, but Mitchell says the BOP has resisted the change for longer placements. In a proposed rule on pre-release community confinement last month, the BOP did not alter its stance on the length of placement.

“The BOP should not cap the time that inmates can spend in halfway houses at six months, but rather should place inmates in these houses for 12 months,” Mitchell said. “The BOP’s resistance is contrary to the intended purpose of reentry.”

Mitchell believes that the longer period of placement is important because it provides prisoners who will rejoin the community soon with an opportunity to have a structured and more gradual transition back into society. Mitchell also says these services allow former inmates to reconnect or maintain family contacts, which have been shown to help reduce recidivism, or when a former inmate re-offends and returns to prison.

“Halfway houses provide a structured environment to transition a prisoner to the community,” Mitchell said. “When an individual is placed in such a facility, it alleviates overcrowding and reduces the economic costs for that inmate because the inmate is required to be employed.  Moreover, it provides inmates with an opportunity to create an employment history if they did not have one in the past.  Finally, it helps prisoners readjust to life outside of the walls in a positive, productive manner.

Mitchell published a paper on this issue in the Michigan Journal of Race and Law.

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