Since January 2022, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has been trying to determine how to implement the 2018 First Step Act (FSA). Frustration has grown among prisoners and families anxiously waiting on a determination of when a federal prison term will end, writes Walter Pavlo in Forbes. Retired BOP official Hugh Hurwitz says the law aims to reduce the federal prison population, a total that has trended down over the past 6 years, by rewarding prisoners’ participation in meaningful classes and reduce the chances of their returning to prison. The reward is that an eligible prisoner can earn 10 days of credits off of their sentence for every 30 days of programming or productive activities. For those with a minimum or low rates of recidivism, known as a PATTERN score, the prisoner can earn an additional 5 days each month if they get two consecutive scores of low or minimum. Those scores are updated every 6 months, so potentially, a prisoner who arrives at prison could be earning 15 days per month off a sentence within the first 6 months of arriving.
BOP initially calculated FSA credits manually beginning in January 2022 when the Federal Register published the Final Rule on FSA. Last August, BOP rolled out a new auto-calculator that stopped credits from being earned once the prisoner was 18 months from release. This was particularly hard on those prisoners with shorter sentences. Sens. Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley, the law’s biggest proponents, objected, and BOP promised a new calculation. The bureau now says prisoners can earn only 10 credits per month for the first year of incarceration. There are about 158,000 federal inmates, half of them minimum and low security inmates, the populations most likely to get FSA credits. Prisoners are taking their cases to court, asking judges to determining the duration of their sentences While judges consider cases, many prisoners will have spent weeks or months in prison unnecessarily, Pavlo says.