Prison Alternatives:

Crowded Federal Prisons Can Transfer More Inmates to Halfway Houses

GGD-92-5: Published: Nov 14, 1991. Publicly Released: Nov 14, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Bureau of Prisons' (BOP) halfway house program, focusing on: (1) BOP use of halfway houses; (2) the criteria used to place inmates in halfway houses; and (3) whether halfway houses are a suitable alternative to prison for certain offenders.

GAO found that: (1) BOP is not making full use of contracted halfway houses; (2) monthly occupancy rates at halfway houses averaged 73 percent, while the federal prison system reported 150 percent capacity; (3) inmates who were placed in halfway houses spent about 29 percent fewer days in the halfway houses than BOP policy anticipated; (4) the halfway houses reviewed appeared to offer a suitable alternative to prison; (5) at the halfway houses reviewed, 83 percent of the inmates had found employment in the communities where they expected to live upon release; and (6) none of the halfway houses created problems for the community. GAO also found that reasons for the shortage of halfway houses placements included: (1) different interpretations of BOP national policy by BOP officials at the prisons where placement decisions are made; (2) varying methods used by BOP officials to implement the policy; (3) BOP delays in starting the placement process; and (4) BOP policy that permits eligible inmates to refuse halfway house placements.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Community Corrections Center Utilization and Transfer Procedure Program statement was issued April 30, 1993, and incorporates recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require the Director, BOP, to clarify its national policy on halfway house placements by providing better definitions of vague criteria, such as "history of violence" and "use of a weapon" that are used in making placement decisions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BOP's Program Statement on CCC Utilization and Transfer procedure issued in April 1993 incorporates this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require the Director, BOP, to ensure that suitable inmates are identified for the halfway house program by adapting procedures that have proven successful at prisons with high referral rates, such as holding discussions with inmates and staff on program benefits, requiring that denials be justified in writing, and reviewing denials and approvals of halfway house placements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to BOP, the audit guidelines used in program and operational reviews of the unit management function in their institutions clearly and aggressively address the timeliness issue.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require the Director, BOP, to ensure that wardens start the placement process in a timely manner, in accordance with the BOP nine-month policy, so that inmates receive the full benefit of halfway house placement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The CCC Utilization and Transfer Program Statement incorporates this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require the Director, BOP, to issue policy guidelines defining the circumstances in which inmates could refuse to accept a halfway house placement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

 

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