DOJ Establishing a School District in Federal Prison System

By Susan Jones | December 1, 2016 | 5:37am EST
The U.S. Justice Department announced a series of prison reforms on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016 intended to reduce recidivism. (AP File Photo)

( - The Justice Department on Wednesday announced a series of prison reforms intended to help former inmates return successfully to their communities.

The federal government plans to set up a school district within the federal prison system; pay for state-issued IDs before inmates are released; regulate federal halfway houses and "explore alternative models"; and finally, enhance mental health and substance-abuse programs 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 announcement comes a year after the Bureau of Prisons hired outside consultants to review its operations and recommend changes to minimize recidivism. A new prison reform website established by the Justice Department details the current and ongoing reforms at BOP.

Here's how the Justice Department described its prison reform plans:

-- 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. [They may also be required to vote in some states.] 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.

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