Intended to Assist Reentry Into Society, Halfway Houses Can Sometimes Seem Like Additional Punishment

Halfway HouseA criminal conviction can result in a wide range of penalties, depending on an even wider range of factors that judges and juries must consider. Most cases result in some form of probation, or time served if the defendant remained in custody during the case. A defendant who is sentenced to a jail or prison term may not serve the entire sentence. Parole involves early release, followed by a period of supervision that is similar to probation. Some inmates may be eligible for release to a facility located in the community, commonly known as a “halfway house,” whose purpose is to assist with the adjustment to life outside prison. A recent investigative report on President Obama’s pardons and commutations showed how these facilities can, unfortunately, end up looking more like punishment instead of rehabilitation.

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) takes custody of people convicted of federal criminal offenses. It is authorized to incarcerate inmates in any facility “that meets minimum standards of health and habitability.” 18 U.S.C. § 3621(b). At the end of their sentences, federal law directs the BOP to place prisoners in facilities “that will afford [them] a reasonable opportunity to adjust to and prepare for [their] reentry…into the community” for up to 12 months. Id. at § 3624(c). It refers to these facilities as residential reentry centers (RRCs)—halfway houses by another name.

Texas has similar procedures for halfway houses. The Pardons and Paroles Division (PPD) is authorized to take custody of an inmate within 12 months of their “presumptive parole date or mandatory supervision release date” and to place them in a “community residential facility” for the remainder of their sentence. Tex. Gov. Code § 499.002(a). The Texas Community Supervision and Corrections Department (CSCD) also has the authority to transfer “suitable low-risk inmates” and those whom it finds “would benefit from a smoother transition from incarceration to supervised release” to halfway houses. Id. at § 508.118(a).

The investigative report mentioned above deals with the case of a man sentenced to life imprisonment on federal drug charges in the 1990s. The case involves yet another American health care tragedy—according to the report, the defendant only became involved in drug distribution in order to pay for a bone marrow transplant for his son. His supplier testified against him, reportedly claiming that he was the supplier, and he received a life sentence without parole.

In August 2016, President Obama commuted the remainder of his sentence, but the BOP retained custody of him until December. During that time, it placed him in an RRC operated by an organization with an expressly religious mission statement. He described conditions at the facility as chaotic, with different staff members setting different and inconsistent requirements for him. The facility required him to find a job but allegedly set requirements for him that prevented him from doing so. At the time the report was published in October, he had been ordered to live in the RRC full-time, despite having been released from prison.

For more than 20 years, board-certified federal crime lawyer Michael J. Brown has advocated for the rights of defendants facing federal and state charges in West Texas courts. To schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case, contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157.

More Blog Posts:

Man Serving Life Sentence for Drug Conviction Seeks Release, or a Reduction in Sentence, After 27 Years Behind Bars, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, December 23, 2015

“Fair Sentencing” Laws Eliminate Mandatory Minimum Sentences, Sentencing Disparities for Certain Drug Offenses, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, January 26, 2015

Restrictions on Parolees’ Social Media Access Are Constitutional, Court Says, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, December 17, 2013

Photo credit: Simon Johnston [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.