Halfway houses, also known as residential re-entry centers, help transition prisoners from incarceration back to free society. These institutions provide training so that inmates can successfully enter the workforce and not resume criminal activity. The halfway house provides structure and oversight during this transitional period.
Located within communities, halfway houses provide a way for an inmate to re-enter the world at large before completing his sentence. The last six months of the sentence might be served at the halfway house. While at the halfway house, the inmate participates in educational and job training programs, going out to work at some point during the halfway house experience. If necessary, drug treatment programs are available. In the federal system, inmates are expected to work 40-hour weeks within 15 days of entering the halfway house. Federal and state halfway houses do not serve the non-prison population dealing primarily with substance abuse issues. Most halfway houses serving those with alcohol or drug issues are privately owned.
Read More: Rules for Halfway Houses
Not all inmates are eligible for halfway house placement as the end of their sentence draws near. Before placement, consideration is given to the nature of the crime committed and the inmate's history while incarcerated. Sex offenders and deportable illegal aliens are ineligible for placement in federal halfway houses, but the same is not true of all state-run programs. Nonviolent offenders receiving short sentences might serve the entire time in a halfway house. Those who don't pay toward their financial responsibility program, fail to participate in programs while incarcerated, and demonstrate poor attitudes won't qualify for federal placement. The same holds true for inmates with outstanding warrants or pending cases.
During the inmate's stay at the halfway house, he experiences accountability not very different from a prison stay -- he is still serving his sentence. Throughout the day, inmate counts occur, and all inmates are subject to curfews. Inmates must sign in and out of the facility, and can only leave for work, counseling, job-seeking, approved recreational activities or family visits. Halfway house staff might call the inmate at any time while he is out of the facility. Upon return, the inmate is subject to random alcohol and drug testing.
New Federal Regulations
The U.S. attorney general announced new regulations for federal halfway houses in March 2014. These include allowing inmates to have cell phones to contact family and potential employers; providing transportation or public transit vouchers for inmates seeking employment, and providing standardized treatment for inmates with substance abuse or mental health issues. More inmates can graduate to home confinement with the expanded use of ankle bracelet monitors.
- U.S. Department of Justice: In New Step to Fight Recidivism, Attorney General Holder Announces Justice Department to Require Federal Halfway Houses to Boost Treatment Services for Inmates Prior to Release
- Federal Bureau of Prisons: Completing the Transition
- Families Against Mandatory Minimums: Frequently Asked Questions About Federal Halfway Houses and Home Confinement
- U.S. District Court Northern District of Ohio: Completing Your Custody Term at a Halfway House and/or On House Incarceration
- Recovery: Sober Living Communities and Housing Options
A graduate of New York University, Jane Meggitt writes regularly for various legal blogs. Her work has appeared in LegalZoom, USA Today and many other publications.