Buffalo Halfway House to close, leaving inmates locked up longer

2017-11-02 | The Buffalo News

Nov. 02--For more than four decades, the Buffalo Halfway House served as as alternative to prison, a kind of transitionary home for inmates looking for a fresh start.

It was there, in the rooms of the Glenwood Avenue facility, that inmates could learn about job training, educational opportunities, health care and family counseling.

Later this year, the 51-bed home will shut down, leaving the region, at least temporarily, without a federal halfway house.

"We're closing our doors," said Judy Dewald, chairwoman of the halfway house board. "We were blindsided, and now people who were slated to come here will spend more time in prison."

Dewald said the halfway house received notice this month that its funding from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons is being eliminated a year before its 5-year contract ends.

The facility is one of 16 across the country that is closing because of funding cuts by the Trump administration, but Dewald acknowledged the halfway house was also cited for "program deficiencies."

In an email to Rep. Brian M. Higgins, who is looking into the funding cuts, the Bureau of Prisons said the shutdown in Buffalo stemmed from the facility's failure to comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act but gave no other details.

Prison officials also indicated the search for another service provider is already underway.

Halfway houses, part of the federal criminal justice system since the 1960s, are low-security residences that help convicted criminals re-enter their communities.

Dewald said the shutdown is almost certain to disrupt the transition of the men and woman who live at the halfway house, which she said was almost full. She noted that some of the residents already have jobs in the community.

"I think it's a shame," Federal Public Defender Marianne Mariano said of the closing. "The Buffalo Halfway House is essential to people re-entering their community."

Mariano said she hopes the Bureau of Prisons remains committed to the halfway house concept and finds another provider in Buffalo.

A spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons told Reuters that the 15 other facilities across the country targeted for shutdown are either underused or serve regions with small populations.

"The Bureau remains firmly committed to these practices, but has had to make some modifications to our programs due to our fiscal environment," said BOP spokesman Justin Long.

The funding cuts come at a time when the nation's for-profit prison companies -- including the Geo Group Inc., which has aligned itself with the Trump administration -- are moving into the halfway house business.

The cuts also come as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions advocates for prosecutions that result in the highest provable offense, and most likely, longer prison sentences.

The closing of the Glenwood Avenue home will result in 19 counselors, cooks and others losing their jobs.

The shutdown is scheduled for Dec. 31.