Today, the Department of Justice announced a series of reforms at the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) designed to reduce recidivism and increase the likelihood of inmates’ safe and successful return to the community. These efforts include building a semi-autonomous school district within the federal prison system, reforming federal halfway houses, covering the cost of obtaining state-issued photo IDs for federal inmates prior to their release from custody and providing additional services for female inmates.
“Helping incarcerated individuals prepare for life after prison is not just sound public policy; it is a moral imperative,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch. “These critical reforms will help give federal inmates the tools and assistance they need to successfully return home as productive, law-abiding members of society. By putting returning citizens in a position to make the most of their second chance, we can create stronger communities, safer neighborhoods and brighter futures for all.”
“The sweeping changes that we are announcing today chart a new course for the Bureau of Prisons that will help make our prisons more effective, our communities safer and our families stronger," said Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates. “One of the best ways to prevent crime is by reducing recidivism, and one of the best ways to reduce recidivism is by equipping inmates with the tools they need to successfully reenter society."
Last year, with the department’s support, BOP retained outside consultants to review the agency’s operations and recommend changes designed to reduce the likelihood of inmates re-offending after their release from prison. As part of today’s announcement, the department is launching a new website, www.justice.gov/prison-reform, that compiles current and ongoing reforms at BOP, and includes the final reports from the outside consultants.
The department announced additional details regarding these efforts:
Building a school district within the federal prison system. Research shows that inmates who participate in correctional education programs have 43 percent lower odds of returning to prison than those who do not, and that every dollar spent on prison education saves four to five dollars on the cost of re-incarceration. BOP is building a semi-autonomous school district within the federal prison system, which will offer programs for literacy, high school diplomas and post-secondary education, along with expanded opportunities for individuals with learning disabilities. Today, BOP also announced that it has hired Amy Lopez, an experienced educator in the Texas prison school system, to serve as the first superintendent of BOP’s school district.
Reforming federal halfway houses. BOP is overhauling Residential Reentry Centers (RRCs), popularly known as “halfway houses,” which provide housing for approximately 80 percent of inmates during the final months of their federal sentences. Since the early 1980s, the ownership and operation of RRCs have been fully privatized, with BOP relying on a mix of for-profit companies and non-profit organizations. Today, Deputy Attorney General Yates issued a memorandum directing BOP to leverage its purchasing power and overhaul this private market. Among other things, the memorandum directed BOP to establish clear, uniform and improved standards for all RRC providers; expand the collection and publication of RRC performance data; and explore alternative models that would create a more effective and efficient market for federal reentry services.
Covering the cost of state-issued IDs prior to inmates’ release. Possession of government-issued identification documents is critical to successful reentry. Without such documentation, men and women leaving correctional facilities face significant challenges securing employment and housing, registering for school, opening bank accounts and accessing other benefits, such as health care, that are critical to successful integration. The department announced today that BOP will begin paying for every federal inmate to obtain a birth certificate and a state-issued identification card before they arrive at RRCs. An independent consultant estimated that this effort will save the agency approximately $19 million a year, by making it easier for inmates to find a stable job and post-custody housing, which allows BOP to more quickly transfer inmates to less expensive forms of custody such as home confinement.
Enhancing programs for female inmates. Next month, BOP will resume housing female inmates at its facility in Danbury, Connecticut, making it easier for female inmates from the Northeast to remain in contact with their families. In addition, the Danbury facility will house BOP’s first-ever integrated treatment facility for female inmates, which will feature a mental health unit and a women’s Residential Drug Abuse Program, the agency’s most intensive substance abuse treatment course.
These initiatives are part of the department’s deep commitment to a fair, effective criminal justice system that promotes public safety and prepare inmates for their return to the community, thereby reducing the likelihood that a cycle of crime will continue.