The Federal Halfway House System is a Mess: Here’s What You Should do to Prepare for the Best Outcome


Last week I received a call from a client who is currently at the halfway house in West Palm Beach. He told me that effective November 1st they will not be accepting new inmates and will be closing. This is the only halfway house in Palm Beach county. It has about 120 beds for men and women.. They won’t be opening a new one. That means 120 fewer available beds for people who are eligible to be released from federal prison now.

When a federal inmate is approaching the end of incarceration, it can be a confusing and stressful time for the inmate as well as their family. Unfortunately, factors beyond the inmate’s control mean that some people will have to remain in a federal prison or camp longer than they initially thought.


In theory, the final phase of incarceration would almost always involve either being transferred to a RRC (Residential Re-Entry Center), otherwise known as a halfway house. Further, the First Step Act made it possible to earn 12 months or more in time credit that could be applied in order to shorten the time behind bars in exchange for time in a halfway house or on home confinement.


That said, when dealing with a huge bureaucracy like the BOP, how things should work in theory is rarely how they work in the real world. Partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and partly because of poor planning by the BOP, there is a massive shortage of available beds in halfway houses, meaning that some inmates’ projected release date – which should be the sentenced time minus up to 12 months of earned time credits – may be extended.


This is already having real-world effects: Just three years ago, over 10,600 prisoners were in federal halfway houses and roughly 4,600 in home confinement, together roughly one of every 14 federal inmates. Today, federal halfway house residents are down 28% to 7,670, and home confinement numbers plunged 61% to 1,822; as a result, only about one in every 20 federal inmates is in transitional housing.


In other words, the shortage of space in halfway houses means that unfortunately, some inmates will spend more time behind bars than they should.


However, there are ways to prepare so that when the time comes, you or your loved one has a stronger case for being released into a halfway house instead of remaining behind bars for one extra second:

  1. Prepare a release plan detailing where you/they plan to return, including the names & locations of the local halfway houses, along with individuals who will form a support system.
  2. Be aware that if you/they choose to go to a state that is not the current residence state on file with the BOP, then it requires a relocation application which can take time to process.
  3. Find out how many beds are available in the local halfway houses –while the exact number is better, although a general idea will suffice, as the BOP may not be aware.
  4. Identify job opportunities in the area, which will add credibility to any post-release plan.

Ultimately, until the BOP figures out a way to address the major problem that they caused, federal inmates will likely continue to pay the price. As being released into a halfway house is a privilege – not a right – the best way to increase the chances that you or your loved one is released on time is to prepare accordingly. If you would like help or have any questions regarding how to best go about that, do not hesitate to get in touch with me.

Sam Mangel
Member: American Bar Association