Political News

Justice Dept. announces changes to halfway house system

Posted 2:29 p.m. Wednesday
Updated 2:30 p.m. Wednesday

— The Justice Department plans to overhaul its system of halfway houses, where most federal prisoners spend the final months of their sentences before being freed from custody, officials announced Wednesday.

The goal is to reduce the chances that inmate will commit crimes after their release, and to help ease their return into society, the department said.

The initiative is part of the Justice Department's broader prisoner re-entry effort, which officials see as vital to reducing corrections costs and lowering the federal inmate population. It comes just months after the department announced plans to end its use of private prisons.

The halfway houses serve more than 30,000 residents a year. The bureau has agreements with 103 contractors to operate 181 different facilities across the country.

"Successful reentry is critical for public safety, and so it is crucial that we get those services right," Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said in a memo that directs the Bureau of Prisons to establish uniform standards for halfway house providers, to post "report cards" about the facilities online and strengthen programs for female inmates.

The memo also says the bureau will begin covering the costs of government-issued identification cards, including Social Security cards and birth certificates, that can help inmates arriving at halfway houses find jobs. Officials expect that move to save money by helping inmates get work more easily and speeding their transfers to home.

The memo also directs the bureau to expand its oversight and monitoring of halfway house contracts and create a semi-autonomous school district to offer literacy and other programs within the prison system. It also says the bureau should attempt to negotiate a single, nationwide contract for location-monitoring services. Each halfway house is currently responsible for monitoring the whereabouts of its residents when they leave for a job, family purposes or other reasons.

The Associated Press, relying on data released under the Freedom of Information Act, reported last year that more than 240 inmates had slipped away from federal custody in the last three years while traveling to halfway houses.

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Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP

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