Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh was transferred from an Alabama prison into the supervision of a local reentry management office Wednesday about a year and a half ahead of her release date.
Pugh, the city’s mayor from 2016 to 2019, was sentenced to three years behind bars after she pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion charges in a self-dealing scheme involving her “Healthy Holly” children’s books. She reported to Aliceville Federal Prison, a low security facility in Alabama, in June 2020.
Federal Bureau of Prisons records show Pugh is now in the custody of the Residential Reentry Management Baltimore field office, one of about two dozen regional facilities across the country that manage offenders living in halfway houses and serving home confinement. The local office serves the Baltimore and D.C. areas.
A spokesman for the bureau declined to say Wednesday morning whether Pugh has been transferred to a halfway house or home confinement, citing privacy concerns. Pugh’s attorneys were unavailable to comment on the specifics of her personal reentry program Wednesday.
Ex-offenders who have experienced the reentry system themselves report most stays follow a similar set of rules: participants typically serve some combination of time between a halfway house and home confinement; they’re required to work or be on the hunt for a job; and they remain supervised with the ever-present threat of returning to prison custody.
“Releasing from prison is of course a great day, but often times you realize just a few hours after you get to the halfway house it really is a quasi-freedom,” said Justin Paperny, a consultant who prepares clients for incarceration. “Many people are stunned at the level of scrutiny.”
According to the Bureau of Prisons, halfway houses, or residential reentry centers, are supposed to provide a “safe, structured, supervised environment” for former inmates as they return to their communities, offering “employment counseling, job placement, financial management assistance and other programs and services.”
The reality is much more basic, said Paperny, who himself served time in a low-security prison before being released into a halfway house. Residents are required to work, and must submit evidence of their job search shortly after arriving at the facilities, he said. Schedules for each resident are submitted to a case manager for approval, and then that case manager will check in with their employers to confirm they are indeed at work.
Typically, residents are required to surrender 25% of their gross income during their stay as a “subsistence fee,” according to the Bureau of Prisons. Paperny said that fee structure has been suspended during the pandemic.
The job search can be arduous, Paperny said. Sometimes white collar halfway house residents don’t want to work the minimum wage jobs they can secure most easily. Other times, halfway house officials don’t want to approve certain types of work. But finding work is key to making the experience more tolerable, he said.
“Once you get the right job lined up, then you’re out 12 to 14 hours a day,” he said. “Then you’re free.”
Residents are subject to random testing for drugs and alcohol, neither of which are permitted while under halfway house supervision.
For those who qualify for home confinement, typical requirements can include electronic monitoring, visits from a probation officer, restrictions on leaving the house without prior approval and a ban on drug and alcohol use. During the pandemic the Bureau of Prisons has prioritized home confinement when appropriate.
Paperny said he expects Pugh to find work quickly given her connections in the community.
“She’s going to have people willing to offer a job,” he said.
Bruce Bereano, a Maryland lobbyist convicted in 1994 of mail fraud in a scheme to overbill his clients, served a five-month stint at the Volunteers of America halfway house, a former Baltimore motel converted for the purpose.
A fixture in Annapolis, Bereano continued his lobbying and legal work during his days at the facility, submitting detailed schedules of his whereabouts. At his various appointments, those he met with had to sign statements confirming the lobbyist and attorney was where he claimed to be.
Rooms at the Baltimore facility, which each resident had to themselves, were sparsely appointed, Bereano recalled. He brought a rug, a desk and a television as well as a few items to hang on the wall. In the evenings, visitors were allowed, he said. Both men and women lived in the facility.
“It was very tolerable,” he said. “The only bad thing I would say was the food there made hospital food seem like the Capital Grille.”
Regular counts were conducted of residents, often at 2 or 3 a.m., he said. Staff would gather residents in the parking lot of the former motel to tally them. Some employees were nicer than others, he said.
“Some were very nice and treated you as human beings,” he said. “Some people, if they have power or influence or control over someone else, they don’t exercise it in a kind way.”
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Paperny found a similar experience. The staff at his halfway house were young, some with only high school equivalency diplomas. The power went to their heads, he said.
“Many don’t have careers in criminal justice, in reform, in rehabilitation,” he said. “They were here, and their job is to punish. I have no doubt there are pockets of staff that mean well, but many obstruct, delay payments, delay paperwork for home confinement.”
Paperny said stays at halfway houses vary in length, depending on the length of an offender’s sentence, the space available in the halfway house and how quickly officials decide to transition the person to home confinement. Some stays extend up to a year, but during the pandemic, officials seem to be moving faster to get residents into home confinement, he said.
Paperny spent three months in the reentry program — half in the halfway house, and half from his home. He said he expects Pugh to serve no more than 60 days.
Bereano said he credits his time spent in a halfway house with giving him time to reflect.
“The experience helps to ground you and remind you that not only could things be worse, but there’s a lot of things in your own life you should be more grateful for,” he said. “There were some folks in there that were bitter, they had chips on their shoulders. I just let them be.”
“How Mayor Pugh is going to handle this, that’s up to her, but you’ve got to have the right attitude,” Bereano added. “This is solely within her control, and I wish her well.”