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April 21, 2010

Should we care that Cameron Douglas, though sentenced to 5 years in prison, will likely be out in 2012?

I had a wonderful discussion with my sentencing class this morning about the realities of the Cameron Douglas sentencing and his forthcoming prison term.  We discussed the legal reality that, because parole was eliminated from the federal sentencing system via the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, the 5-year prison term he was give yesterday (basics here) "really meant" he was subject to being incarcerated for half a decade.  But then we got into the practical realities of calculating his "real" time, and we discovered that he might be out of federal prison as early as 2012.  Here's why:

1.  Cameron Douglas was given credit yesterday for the 8 months he has already served pending sentencing, so his 60-month sentence already has only 52 months left.

2.  Cameron Douglas, like all federal prisoners, can earn up to 15% off his sentence for "good time."  Though the exact calculation of that time is now an issue pending before the Supreme Court in Barber v. Thomas (background here), it seems fair to assert that Douglas will be able to earn at least another 8 months off his sentence if he behaves himself.  Thus, his "real" federal prison term is potentially down to 44 months.

3.  Cameron Douglas, like many federal prisoners struggling with substance abuse, should be eligible for the RDAP program (background here), which could lead to a reduction of another year off his sentence.  Thus, his "real" federal prison term is potentially down to 32 months.

If my basic analysis and math is right (and I am not an expect on these back-end prison law issues), it seems that Cameron Douglas might be able to celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas 2012 at home with his famous father and step-mom.  In addition, because the RDAP program may also permit extended treatment and transition via half-way house placement and home confinement, Cameron Douglas might even get to watch the Summer 2012 Olympics from the comfort of his own home.

The big follow-up question to all real-world sentencing math is whether we should care or be at all bothered that Cameron Douglas, despite being sentenced to imprisonment for five years in federal court just yesterday, will likely walk out of federal prison in perhaps just over two years. 

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April 21, 2010 at 01:35 PM | Permalink


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Those eight months he has already done were real, and likely harder than the "real" time he will begin shortly.

And the halfway house isn't his actual home, and probably not actually comfortable.

Posted by: Matt | Apr 21, 2010 1:52:18 PM

Just to clarify on one of the back-end prison law matters, it is the Bureau of Prisons that gives the defendant credit for time-served, not the sentencing judge. And the BOP does so automatically.

Posted by: AFPD | Apr 21, 2010 2:14:17 PM

Since he will be eligible for a full 12 months in community corrections post RDAP, that should get him to his uncomfortable halfway house by April 2012, and then home with a GPS bracelet by September (3624(c) authorizes last 10% up to 6 months home confinement).

Posted by: margy | Apr 21, 2010 2:24:41 PM

All of these back-end calculations are true for every prisoner accepted into RDAP, not just sons of the famous. If there are issues one way or the other with the year off for RDAP and the additional 12 mos. home confinement, they are issues with RDAP and not with preferential treatment based on identity. The other reductions--time served (not really a reduction), good behavior, and some measure of community or home confinement at the end of the term under 3624(c)--would be true for any federal prisoner.

Posted by: Def. Atty. | Apr 21, 2010 2:33:48 PM

All of you hit the nail on the head and gave very good info....For myself, I think a 50% reduction was a bit much. But the gig isn't over for not so young Cameron.. He has to get thru 5 yrs of supervised release, I believe. An addict is going to have to work hard and stay on the straight and narrow or else he could do all 5 yrs, back in prison....Kind of unusual to get more time for getting your release revoked, than you spend in prison for the instant offense..5 yrs is much too long to try and skirt your way around and buy these kits to beat the test, I understand the market has them...Cameron will have to be Mr Clean..

Posted by: Goodyr | Apr 21, 2010 2:58:21 PM

Goodyr, I agree. 50% of his sentence reduced was a bit too much, because other offender's get much higher sentences, without any reduction's by special program's, such as for example Sex Offendor's. Except the 15% good time. For sex offender's, it's all up to the judge.

Posted by: N/A | Apr 21, 2010 5:50:27 PM

First off, the average sentence reduction under the RDAP is approximately 7 months. He'll be eligible to earn about 7 months of good time based on the time he will serve. Secondly, my recollection is that RDAP graduates generally get 6 months halfway house placement at the end of their sentences. Given the intensive programming/supervision for RDAP inmates, my recollection is also that they generally do NOT get home confinement on top of that 6 months (tho maybe a little at the end). With a 60 month sentence, with 8 months of presentence credit under his belt, Mr. Douglas is probably looking at another 32 months of imprisonment before going out to a halfway house for 6 months (where he is STILL serving his sentence of imnprisonment). A rough approximation, assuming he doesn't mess up.

Posted by: anon | Apr 21, 2010 6:26:00 PM

If I were the man's father or attorney I'm not sure that I would recommend RDAP.

Getting out of prison in what feels like a permissive environment can create an illusion that masks the potentially very serious consequences of screwing up in even an minor way. A halfway house turns what would be something that would produce a minor scolding in normal life for a child or employee into months in prison and a recidivism risk label.

For someone used to an "entitled" attitude towards life who has a self-control/following the rules issue as this man clearly did, the temptation may simply be too much greater in that environment to make it worth it.

Also, while federal prison is certainly not a fun place to be, if you are in a low security setting as Douglas is likely to be, in federal prison where most low security prison offenders are white collar criminals, immigration offenders, and the least worrisome (as fellow inmate) drug offenders, the differential between being in a federal prison and being in a halfway house may not be all that great, and the wardens in a federal prison have to know that if Douglas gets roughed up that he has a very powerful microphone from which to broadcast his grievances so the usual standard of indifference to inmate plights may not apply in his case while he is incarcerated. Douglas also doesn't have a wife or kids that he might be better able to maintain ties with in a halfway house than in a federal prison.

The benefits of a low security federal prison and a halfway house for one additional year may not be worth the risk of losing more by screwing up in RDAP which is probably considerably higher in this case than in the case of many federal inmates eligible to get out.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Apr 21, 2010 6:29:40 PM

You misunderstand. You may argue and believe that doing the full five years may make him less likely to go back to drugs after release, and to that I say "who knows?" There are, however, no REAL negative consequences to screwing up in RDAP, or in tje 6 month halfway house period referenced above. Your sentence can't be increased - you simply won't get the sentence reduction, and might get a shorter period of halfway house in prerelease custody. So, I fail to comprehend "the risk of losing more by screwing up in RDAP." Furthermore, it's not up to his dad or his lawyer - the judge will ABSOLUTELY recommend drug treatment while incarcerated (and in fact will MOST likely recommend the "Comprehensive 500 Hour Drug Treatment" Program) and BOP will review the inmate for RDAP. If he chooses not to participate that's his choice, nobody else's. finally, he will certainly have drug testing/treatment required as a condition of supervised release, no matter WHEN he finishes his sentence.

Posted by: anon | Apr 21, 2010 11:23:23 PM

Counting the 8 months of time served as not part of his "real" sentence makes no sense and gives the impression that the post author is straining to make a point (i.e., that Douglas is getting off easy). That point is not a bad one, and is supported by various other facts, including points 2 and 3 in the post. But point 1 is so contrary to the ordinary person's analysis (which would judge the length of punishment by how long you spent incarcerated, not how much of it was before or after the actual plea and sentencing) that it damages the credibility of what comes after it.

Posted by: Anon | Apr 22, 2010 11:58:23 AM

Poster N/A above is correct in stating the average time off for inmates completing RDAP is 7 months. RDAP graduates are also entitled to guaranteed 6 months halfway house. Halfway houses are typically state-run or privately run facilities that have their own policies on home confinement. I had a client in St. Louis who completed RDAP with 8 months off his sentence, got 6 months halfway house, and was in home confinement about 1.5 months after entering halfway house.

The "screwing up in RDAP" argument has little traction. Getting kicked out of RDAP wouldn't have any negative sentencing consequences, except losing the time off RDAP allows. Put differently, getting kicked out of RDAP doesn't necessarily mean a person would lose the 15% per year good time from BOP.

Posted by: charles | Apr 22, 2010 12:41:57 PM

I too was convicted to drug traffic. I was cought with only a small fraction of what Mr. Douglas had. The big difference was that my father was not a famous jew actor and was not worth $600,000,000 Even though it was my first time ever. I was sentence to 18 years with a minimun 5 years mandatory. I was one of the lucky ones. I saw many people with massive sentences, from life to 25 years mandatory with also a fraction of the drugs Cameron had in his poss. The reality is that justice,freedom and liberty in this country is only for the super rich and famous. When the poor comes before a judge in this country he or she is treated worst than an animal. Thats why we have more people encarcerated in this country than any other country. While the rich commits murder drug traff. child rape etc. and instead they get book deals, tv. exposure 24 hr. and everyone suppost to feel sorry for them.

Posted by: hiran pujol | May 28, 2010 6:07:44 PM

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