Impeding Reentry: Agency and Judicial Obstacles to Longer Halfway House Placements

90 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2010

Date Written: August 23, 2010


Over 700,000 prisoners were released into their communities in 2008, at least 50,000 of those from federal custody. Once an obscure cause, nearly everyone agrees that prisoner reentry – the process by which former prisoners return to their community as free citizens – is of national importance. Absent adequate attention to transitional services, ex-offenders are often homeless, unemployed, and suffer from untreated substance abuse addictions. Accordingly, President Obama and his two predecessors have devoted considerable attention to the issue. Congress passed the Second Chance in 2007, amending two federal statutes, sections 3624(c) and 3621(b) and giving inmates a longer time in halfway houses to transition from incarceration to law-abiding citizens and requiring individualized inmate assessments prior to placement. Nevertheless, the Bureau of Prisons is ignoring both mandates, by categorically limiting the inmates’ time in halfway houses, trends that some courts have found violates the agency’s statutory authority.

By presuming that six months is a satisfactory length of time to spend in a halfway house, the Bureau of Prisons fails to comply with its statutory authority and thus violates Chevron and hard look review. Federal inmates that have sought to challenge the Bureau of Prisons’ policy have been thwarted by two judicial doctrines, exhaustion and mootness. Courts are refusing to hear inmates’ challenges because the inmates have failed to exhaust their remedies under the Bureau’s three-tiered process prior to seeking judicial relief or because the petition is moot. Inmates have invoked exceptions to both that have had mixed success. Given official statements, legal action is inevitable. Because legal action is a certainty, the time lost awaiting an administrative decision diminishes the amount of time that an inmate would be able to spend in a halfway house. The Bureau of Prisons needs to amend its policy and not categorically place inmates in halfway houses for six months.

Keywords: Chevron, hard look, arbitrary and capricious, reentry, Second Chance Act, Bureau of Prisons, halfway house, Residential Reentry Center, exhaustion, mootness, capable of repetition yet evades review, futility, public importance, statutory interpretation, canon of construction

JEL Classification: K14, K23, K10

Suggested Citation

Mitchell, S. David, Impeding Reentry: Agency and Judicial Obstacles to Longer Halfway House Placements (August 23, 2010). University of Missouri School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-20, Available at SSRN: or

S. David Mitchell (Contact Author)

University of Missouri ( email )

Missouri Avenue & Conley Avenue
Columbia, MO MO 65211
United States

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