During the last six months, Attorney General Eric Holder has announced new policies for prison reform and the reduction of our high recidivism rates. The reforms announced previously focused on the overkill of charging defendants which resulted in long sentences for non-violent offenders. On March 24, it was announced that the Federal Bureau of Prisons will order new requirements for the 200 plus federal halfway houses in the United States. Federal halfway houses shall provide appropriate treatment to returning citizens with mental health and substance abuse issues. For many years, halfway houses were just halfhearted attempts at providing successful re-entry to former inmates. Returning citizens from our federal prisons were placed in halfway houses without access to health care for mental health issues and treatment for addictions. Without such treatment, it was inevitable that a substantial number of those released would become new statistics for our high recidivism rates.
Attorney General Holder stated that, “All halfway houses will have to offer standardized cognitive behavioral programs for federal inmates, and the Bureau of Prisons will set guidelines for the qualifications of instructors as well as the size and length of the classes.”
The federal halfway houses shall also provide transportation in order that former inmates can find jobs. Without transportation, returning citizens faced major obstacles in finding jobs. Many halfway houses are not near any public transportation. The studies have shown that returning citizens who are employed become productive members of society. A gourmet restaurant that employed inmates in Wales had a 12% recidivism rate compared to the national 47% recidivism rate in England. The inmates were required to have only 6 – 18 months left on their sentence. The inmates also resolved any problems such as alcohol, drugs, and anger before being allowed to work at the restaurant.
Another example of a successful state halfway house in the United States – The John R. Hay House located in Kingsport, Tennessee. The Hay House was founded in 1981 to help former inmates re-enter the community as responsible and productive citizens. The Hay House has a ninety percent success rate for its returning citizens. In the past five years, more than 1,700 individuals have entered the Hay House program. Of the 1700, 500 have earned GEDs, 899 completed alcohol and drug education and aftercare programs, and 579 completed behavioral modification and education programs. Additionally, participants earned $1,333,457; paid $516,175 in child support, criminal injury fees, restitution, fines and court costs; and worked more than 124,000 community service hours worth an estimated $638,000.
Hay House Director, Dr. Chuck Walsh, stated that the Hay House, “Gives them a place to live, get treatment they need, medicine, get a job, pay their fines. It gives them at least a fighting chance.” Hay House costs taxpayers less than one-tenth that of imprisonment and has been recognized as a model program by the Tennessee State Department of Corrections.
The new federal policies for halfway houses are the beginning of wholehearted successful Re-Entry programs for our federal returning citizens.