Joe Biden “wants prisons closed, and [to] provide free federal housing for former inmates.”
This claim has been popping up in the president’s stump speech recently, but, once again, Trump is mischaracterizing Biden’s positions with wild exaggerations.
Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee and former vice president, says he would end the federal government’s use of private prisons and increase funding for halfway houses and transitional programs for former prisoners.
What Trump is describing — an emptying of prisons and free housing for all former inmates — is a flat-out false rendition of Biden’s plan, going far beyond the usual license politicians take on the campaign trail.
In the final months of the Obama administration, the Justice Department adopted a policy to reduce the use of private prisons in the federal system. When a contract with a private prison expired, the Bureau of Prisons “should either decline to renew that contract or substantially reduce its scope,” an August 2016 memo signed by then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates directed. (About 90 percent of prisoners are housed at the state level.)
The effort was short-lived. One month after Trump took office, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Yates’s memo.
Today, of the 155,741 inmates in federal custody, 10 percent — about 14,000 — are in privately managed facilities, down from 15 percent in 2013, according to BOP statistics.
Biden is pledging a return to the Obama-era policy of scaling down and ending private prison contracts as they expire. “Biden will end the federal government’s use of private prisons, building off an Obama-Biden Administration’s policy rescinded by the Trump Administration,” Biden’s website says, linking to the Yates memorandum.
Residential reentry centers, or halfway houses, are low-security facilities for prisoners serving probation or alternative sentences. The Bureau of Prisons says that reentry assistance reduces recidivism and that halfway houses help with employment, housing, substance abuse treatment, and medical and mental health care.
The Trump administration severed contracts with as many as 16 reentry facilities in 2017, citing the “fiscal environment,” Reuters reported.
Biden’s criminal justice plan says he “will work toward a goal of ensuring 100% of formerly incarcerated individuals — at the federal and state level — have housing upon release.” Similarly, a set of nonbinding policy recommendations drafted by advisers to Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) says: “We will ensure that 100 percent of returning citizens have access to transitional housing upon reentry from jail or prison.”
“He’ll direct the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to only contract with entities that are open to housing individuals looking for a second chance,” Biden’s website says. “And, he’ll expand funding for transitional housing, which has been drastically cut under the Trump Administration.”
In other words, Biden is proposing to increase funding for halfway housing and other prisoner reentry programs that have received bipartisan support from different administrations, including Trump’s.
Halfway housing is not “free housing.” As the BOP website says: “During their stay, offenders are required to pay a subsistence fee to help defray the cost of their confinement; this charge is 25 percent of their gross income, not to exceed the per diem rate for that contract. The contractor assists inmates in locating suitable housing (if necessary), to which they can release from the RRC.”
Representatives for Biden and Trump did not provide comment.
The Pinocchio Test
Biden says he would work toward “100 percent” housing for inmates being released from state or federal prison. He also proposes to end contracts with private prisons, which house about 10 percent of federal inmates.
Somehow, in Trump’s parlance, this became an end to all prisons and free housing for all inmates.
The prisoner reentry programs Biden supports are hardly radical; Trump’s own administration funds them. Former prisoners would not be getting “free housing,” and the prison system would not close. Trump earns Four Pinocchios.
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