Norton Amendment Blocking Halfway House Subsistence Fees for Federal Inmates Passes House
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) announced that her amendment to the fiscal year 2020 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill to prohibit the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) from using its fiscal year 2020 funds to charge subsistence fees for offenders in halfway houses and on home confinement passed the House of Representatives last night. D.C. Code felons are housed by the BOP. This amendment has the same goal as legislation Norton introduced in April, the Ensuring Successful Reentry Act (H.R. 2366), which would repeal the authority of BOP to charge such fees.
So-called “subsistence fees” collected by BOP on offenders in residential reentry centers (RRCs), or halfway homes, are supposedly imposed to promote financial responsibility by requiring RRC residents to pay a portion of their housing costs. The fee is currently 25% of a resident’s income. However, offenders who are able to find work most often work at minimum wage jobs. The loss of 25% of their paychecks is a significant hurdle to successful reentry and makes it extremely difficult for them to pay rent, child support, or fines and fees associated with their conviction, such as restitution.
“It is not in the public interest to impose additional burdens on returning citizens, setting them up to fail, especially those who manage to find employment and are working toward independence,” Norton said. “Jobs and affordable housing are critical components for ensuring successful reentry. Charging subsistence fees is antithetical to this goal.”
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has already recognized how “counterproductive” subsistence fees are, both for offenders and BOP. In a November 2016 memo, then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates noted that BOP’s “process for collecting these subsistence fees is costly and administratively burdensome for both RRC’s and [BOP],” and called for the DOJ to “develop a plan to limit the use of counterproductive ‘subsistence’ fees imposed on indigent residents.”