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January 20, 2022

Due surely to implementation of FIRST STEP earned-time credits, federal prison population drops by nearly 4,000 in one week

As noted in this prior post from last Thursday, the Department of Justice last week officially announced its new rule for "implementing the Time Credits program required by the First Step Act" and began awarding retroactive credits to those who were eligible and had already done the work to earn credits.  In my post, I commented that, with the retroactive application of these credits, it would be interesting to see if the federal prison population (which as of Jan 13 BOP reported at 157,596 "Total Federal Inmates") would start to decline.  

A week later, on the first day that BOP updates here its reports of "Total Federal Inmates," there is a dramatic change in the total federal prison population.  Specifically, this morning BOP reports 153,855 "Total Federal Inmates," a decline of 3,741 persons now federal inmates.  This roughly 2.5% drop in the federal inmate population in one week is surely the result of the implementation of FIRST STEP Act earned-time credits, and it will now be interested to see if there are continued drops in the weeks ahead.  (I suspect there will be as implementation must take more than just a week, though I will be very surprised if there are subsequent drops as large as this one.)

Among the notable parts of this story is that it represents a bi-partisan, multi-Congress, multi-administration achievement many years in the making.  Of course, the formal law making this possible was the FIRST STEP Act which was enacted with overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress in 2018 and which President Trump signed after he helped get to the bill to the finish line.  But, well before that bill was passed, congressional leaders and the Justice Department during the Obama years had started drafting and building consensus around the prison reform elements of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (first discussed here in October 2015).  And now, of course, it is the Justice Department of the Biden Administration that finalized and now implements this important earned-time credits program required by the FIRST STEP Act.   

Prior recent related posts:

January 20, 2022 at 09:25 AM | Permalink


This is such exciting and encouraging news for many inmates and their families. The prior significant reform was when Congress addressed the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, and it became retroactively applicable. It seems that the corner may now have been turned in criminal sentencing reform. Now, lets see if Congress and the Biden administration can move the ball forward.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Jan 20, 2022 9:39:10 AM

Hopefully the Biden administration stays course. I want the Federal inmate population to decrease by half. The prison industrial complex must end.

Posted by: anon | Jan 20, 2022 11:09:12 AM

I'm sure that Sentencing Law and Policy will have complete and detailed reports on the recidivist crime committed by those newly released, the telling of all sides of the story being important.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 20, 2022 1:21:56 PM

The US Sentencing Commission has been producing recidivism studies at a steady clip in recent years, and I hope they will be closely tracking FIRST STEP cohorts. I will certainly blog about any data available on this issue. Prez Trump and other supporters of prison reform (including you, I believe, Bill) hopes that we can find ways to reduce historically high rates of recidivism for those who are released from prison. I doubt FIRST STEP will magically end recidivism, but I sure hope it helps. Don’t you?

Posted by: Doug B. | Jan 20, 2022 1:30:35 PM

-- In thinking about the world of legal blogging, I'm much more interested in SL&P than in the (for now non-functional) USSC. Since SL&P often notes success stories (like my colleague Shon Hopwood), it should be equally willing to tell us about at least some of the thousands of failures. We are not going to make sound decisions without complete information.

-- It's not up to the government to control the behavior of people released from prison (and you have often criticized the extent of post-release restrictions). Instead, it is up to those released TO CONTROL THEIR OWN BEHAVIOR. This is the basic obligation of adult life. People who can't or won't do it tend to wind up in some kind of institution. This is not my doing and not your doing. It's their doing.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 20, 2022 1:59:45 PM

It seems to be very judge specific. This example is not resentencing for crack cocaine but for compassionate release.

Two co-conspirators filed motions in the same district court for compassionate release - They were both over 70, both had health issues - same conspiracy and same sentence. One had a risk assessment score of an unheard of minus 13 and a custody level of low to out. He did not receive sentencing relief and the other one did. They had different judges.

I agree with you Bill. It is up to the individual to control their own behavior. On the other hand - why spend untold money on risk assessments and custody levels if they are not used for sentencing relief?

Posted by: beth curtis | Jan 20, 2022 3:31:35 PM

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