You are sitting in front of your bunk preparing for your evening classes when the correctional officer approaches. He informs you the case manager wants to see you. Gathering your papers, you follow the CO to the case manager’s office. A tad anxious, you are confident you are not being called in for something bad. You have a good relationship with the case manager. You knock on her door. A voice from inside asks you to come inside and sit down. Listening, you hear the words all prisoners dream of, “You are going home early. Your early release has been approved.” You are ready to go ‘pack-out’ now. The case manager chuckles at your exuberance. In the video, “What Happens After Early Release?” the White Collar Advice team of Justin Paperny and Mike Berlon discuss the process of Early Release, how the process will unfold and what steps and procedures you will need to know to ensure a successful transfer to custody outside the prison confines.

Both the First Step Act and the CARES Act provide a means for inmates to attain an early release. The logistical process of the early release from federal prison entails several steps prior to the inmate being released from confinement. The process usually takes up to two weeks, but it can extend up to a period of one month. The initial step involves contacting the probation department in the jurisdiction where you will be residing. The probation office is a division of the United States Department of Justice and operates outside the parameters of the Bureau of Prisons. 

The probation office will send an inspection officer to the residence where the inmate will live during their home confinement term. The purpose of the home inspection is to ensure the safety of the home environment. Additionally, a probation officer will be specifically assigned to the prisoner. The assigned probation officer is not a carryover from pretrial and needs time to review the prisoner’s files. The duties of the new officer are to oversee the monitoring of the prisoner during their home confinement.

The means of transfer to home confinement will vary in degree from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The inmate will be issued a furlough to allow for the transfer of custody. The furlough provides for the inmate to travel from the prison to the place where the inmate will be met by the new custodial agent. Generally, the inmate can select the mode of travel to the new location. The inmate can have a relative or friend pick the inmate up from the prison. The inmate can also choose to use public transportation to make the transfer. In either situation, the inmate will only be allotted the specific amount of time necessary to complete the journey. The inmate will need to arrange the exact details of the furlough with their case manager.

Often the inmate will report to the halfway house where the probation officer works. In areas where there is no practical location of a working halfway house the probation officer will meet the inmate at the residence where home confinement will occur or will have the inmate report directly to the probation office to meet with the probation officer prior to reporting to the residential location. 

In either situation, it is extremely important to watch the time allowed to complete the journey. Failure to report to the final destination on time is a violation of the terms of release and is treated as an attempted escape. Even extraordinary problems are not an excuse. The case manager will provide a number at the probation office to call if you are running late. Learn the lesson from the story of the inmate who failed to properly notify the probation office when a planned bus transfer was canceled by the bus company. The inmate spent the night at the remote bus depot and took the next available bus. Upon his arrival at the probation office, he was arrested for an attempted escape and had to spend six months in county jail while he fought to explain the failure was due to the bus company. Had the inmate made the call to the probation office when the transfer failed he would have avoided this terrible result.

When the inmate arrives at their destination, they will meet with the probation officer who will monitor their home confinement. The officer will lay out the rules of home confinement. If the inmate is required to wear an ankle monitor, this is generally the time the monitor is attached. Be mindful, home confinement is not a shortening of the term of one’s sentence. Home confinement is a continuation of the sentence in a different, better-situated location. All movements need to be approved in advance by the probation office. Even straying outside to tend a garden or walking the dog around the block may result in a revocation of the home confinement. Confer with the probation officer about the specifics of rules and regulations of home confinement.

The probation office or the probation officer can visit the inmate’s home at any time. The officer will be looking for signs of prohibited behavior, such as being under the influence of alcohol or doing illegal drugs. The inmate should keep in mind they are still being watched and in confinement. Any violation will result in a revocation of the early release for the remainder of the term of the inmate’s sentence. The inmate will not necessarily be returned to confinement in their previous place of confinement. Often inmates whose early release is revoked end up in a more dire circumstance serving the remainder of their sentence in a county jail or a federal detention center.

During home confinement, the inmate is not free to come and go at their leisure. It is not possible to just decide to go to dinner or take off to go to a ball game. The inmate will have to submit a written schedule of all their planned activities to the probation officer. Any deviation from the schedule can result in disciplinary action, including revocation of the early release. In the video, Justin relates the story of an inmate whom he served time with at a halfway house. The probation officer went to this inmate’s place of work during the hours he was required to be at work. The inmate had taken off work early with the approval of his employer. The probation office nonetheless revoked his early release and sent the man to county detention for the remainder of his sentence.

I recall that during my time at the halfway home, while I was at work I was required to report the time in and out of my lunch breaks and the time I departed from work to report back to the halfway home. It is essential to remember home confinement is still confinement. Any inmate in home confinement does not want to make things worse.