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July 3, 2022

Another account of continuing struggles with FIRST STEP Act implementation

NBC News has this lengthy new piece under the headline "Thousands of federal inmates still await early release under Trump-era First Step Act." Here are excerpts:

Thousands of nonviolent federal prisoners eligible for early release under a promising Trump-era law remain locked up nearly four years later because of inadequate implementation, confusion and bureaucratic delays, prisoner advocacy groups, affected inmates and former federal prison officials say.

Even the Biden administration’s attempt to provide clarity to the First Step Act by identifying qualified inmates and then transferring them to home confinement or another form of supervised release appears to be falling short, according to prisoner advocates familiar with the law.

The Department of Justice was tasked with carrying out the law through the federal Bureau of Prisons, but the bureau director, Michael Carvajal, a Trump administration holdover, announced his retirement in January amid criticism of a crisis-filled tenure marked by agency scandals.  No replacement for Carvajal has been named, and criminal justice advocates contend that for the bureau to allow even one person to be incarcerated beyond what is permitted under the First Step Act exposes ongoing failures.

“It shouldn’t be this complicated and it shouldn’t take this long,” said Kevin Ring, president of the nonprofit advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums, or FAMM.  “Here we are, four years later, and it’s maddening.”

The Justice Department published a final rule in January that implements an integral feature of the law in which inmates can earn so-called time credits, which are obtained through participation in prison and work programs and calculated as part of the process of getting out early.  The problem, advocates say: They are identifying inmates whose time credits aren’t getting applied, and in some cases, the inmates aren’t getting released as early as they should be....

Data provided by the Bureau of Prisons shows that as of June 18, more than 8,600 inmates have had their sentences recalculated and are slated for release with the application of their time credits.  But it’s unclear how many qualified inmates are entitled to have been released early but remain incarcerated. In a response, bureau officials said, “We have no data which suggests inmates had their release dates delayed.”

But with the bureau’s own data identifying about 66,600 inmates who are eligible to earn time credits, some industry experts disagree. “We estimate that there are thousands of inmates who will not receive the full benefit — days off of their federal prison sentence — of the First Step Act simply because the agency is uncertain how to calculate these benefits,” said Walter Pavlo, president of the consulting firm Prisonology LLC....

Pavlo said the Bureau of Prisons never had the mechanisms in place to adequately track inmates’ participation and he is concerned the agency “is not facilitating the timely calculation and application of time credits in accordance with the final rule, forcing inmates to serve custodial terms longer than required.”  In the cases he’s reviewed, he said he has seen inmates in prison from six months up to a year who could have had either an earlier release or time in pre-release custody.  “The biggest problem is nobody on the front lines seems to understand the new rule,” Pavlo said. “There needs to be a task force on this now.”

Some prior related posts:

July 3, 2022 at 10:25 PM | Permalink

Comments

It's the law. It should be applied. They don't need a task force. They just need to do it.

Posted by: William C Jockusch | Jul 4, 2022 12:04:50 PM

The biggest issues are 1) lack of training, 2) institutional reluctance, and 3) lack of proper software monitoring.

3) For example, the BOP did not track who was taking what classes for years. They know about your job, but they did not care what you were doing in underwater basket-weaving or how many times you were missing class. Now they are needing to re-create that wheel retroactively BY HAND. Thus, they did not have a central repository of who was in "compliance" with their Risk and Needs Assessment stuff.

This is all sad and old news. Give me a bit of money and 5 coders and I could fix this in 90 days.

Posted by: Zachary Newland | Jul 5, 2022 12:04:28 PM

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