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Prisoners Face Uncertainty As Number Of Halfway Houses Are Cut


The Federal Bureau of Prisons has quietly ended contracts with several halfway houses across the country. They're transitional places for people to live when they leave prison. Some inmates say that change is keeping prisoners locked up longer and hurting their chances to find work on the outside. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Two years ago, Lorenzo Shane Stewart pleaded guilty to income tax evasion. Stewart, who owned an excavating company, thought he'd be out of prison next month. Relatives say he'd even lined up some big contracts at a fertilizer plant for this winter. But it isn't working out that way. Stewart's release date from a prison in Thomson, Ill., has been extended to next year, so he lost out on those jobs. His son, Dylan Stewart, spoke with NPR by cellphone this week.

DYLAN STEWART: I don't get it, why - you know, why this is going on for so long, why it keeps getting pushed back. You know, you did your time. You're supposed to go.

JOHNSON: Dylan Stewart says his father's angry and frustrated. Dylan says he's placed dozens of calls to prison officials and halfway houses across the Midwest.

STEWART: That's been going on for the past couple months now, trying to get information from somebody.

JOHNSON: Instead, Dylan Stewart says he's been getting the runaround. And he's not the only one. Kevin Ring leads Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a group that advocates for prisoners and their families.

KEVIN RING: We've heard from quite a number of folks who are telling us that they were supposed to go home within the next week or month, and they've now been told they're going to stay in prison for another three to six months. This is terrifying for them obviously. It's heartbreaking for their families. And there's just been an absolute lack of communication.

JOHNSON: The Bureau of Prisons says it recently discontinued contracts with 16 small halfway houses. A spokesman for BOP says that change only affected 1 percent of the total number of halfway house beds under contract. And, he says, prison authorities are committed to provide transitional services for inmates even if they have to make some changes because of the, quote, "fiscal environment."

Families Against Mandatory Minimums says it's been overwhelmed and appalled by what it's hearing from prisoners. Some inmates like Lorenzo Shane Stewart are upset to be spending more time in prison. Others are worried their time in the halfway house is getting cut short. Kevin Ring explains.

RING: A number of prisoners go to halfway houses without a job, without identification, sometimes without clothing to even go to a job interview. So these transitional services are incredibly important, and they are the linchpin to a successful re-entry.

JOHNSON: Ring says the Justice Department owes it to inmates and Congress to provide more information about the budget cuts and explain why they're needed. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.


Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.