Bureau Of Prisons’ Interpretation Of First Step Act Will Leave Thousands Of Inmates Incarcerated

Federal Bureau Of Prisons

On Thursday September 8, 2022, federal prisoners across the country eagerly awaited the announcement of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) auto-calculation of First Step Act credits. For many Low and Minimum security inmates, the announcement landed with a thud.

The First Step Act (FSA) was one of the most sweeping pieces of criminal justice reform in decades. Signed into law by President Donald Trump in December 2018, the law allowed eligible inmates, those with an unlikely chance of recidivism and low or minimum security, to earn credits toward an earlier release from prison. Those credits were to be earned by prisoners participating in certain needs-based educational programs and actively participating in productive activities, like a prison job. For every 30 days of successful participation, the prisoner could earn up to 15 days off their sentence up to a maximum of 12 months (365 days). That is what the law states, but the BOP added a new wrinkle stating that those with short sentences, who are also more likely to be minimum or low security, will get no benefit of an earlier release.

A memorandum posted to federal prisoners on Thursday stated:

“Eligible inmates will continue to earn FTC [Federal Time Credits] toward early release until they have accumulate 365 days OR are 18 months from their release date, whichever happens first [emphasis added by BOP]. At this point, the release date becomes fixed, and all additional FTCs are applied toward RRC/HC [Residential Reentry Centers / Home Confinement] placement.”

The effect will be that those prisoners with short sentences will get no reduction in their sentence, something that clearly goes against the BOP’s own experts on FSA.

When a federal prisoner is sentenced, they receive 54 days of Good Conduct Time as soon as they are in federal custody. For someone sentenced to 21 months in prison, that means they would get 94 days of Good Conduct Time (54 days for 12 months then a prorated annual amount of 54 days for the other 9 months) immediately taken off their sentence. So long as the prisoner obeys the rules, their release date would be the 21 months less the 94 days. When FSA came along, the intent was to allow that same prisoner to earn additional days which could be applied to effectively reducing the sentence (a sooner transfer to supervised release, a type of probation). However, the new BOP memorandum takes that away from prisoners by setting what is an arbitrary 18 month, until release, cut-off for receiving FSAs to reduce the sentence. The result is going to be that thousands of federal inmates, many minimum security, will remain in prison for months longer than Congress intended when it passed the law.

Read the full story at Forbes.