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Many U.S. Inmates In Custody Too Long Under First Step, Critics Say

The Trump-era First Step Act has allowed thousands of nonviolent federal offenders to leave prison sooner than originally expected, but advocates say they have reviewed many cases of inmates remaining behind bars longer than they should be, raising questions about implementation failures, NBC News reports. Sreedhar Potarazu, a former federal inmate who sued his Maryland prison in 2022 over the calculation of his earned time credits under the First Step Act, has turned his knowledge of the law toward helping inmates determine the exact dates when they should be released, typically into a halfway house or home confinement. In nine cases reviewed by Potarazu, inmates were incarcerated between two and eight months past their “last date inside,” a term that he says denotes when an inmate can be transferred out of prison to prerelease custody after accruing enough time credits through participation in rehabilitation and work programs and drug and alcohol abuse counseling.

“Even one life kept in longer is an injustice,” Potarazu said, adding: “The taxpayer should care because they’re footing the bill." Walter Pavlo of the consulting firm Prisonology LLC, whose experts include former federal Bureau of Prisons case managers, wardens and sentence computation professionals, said he regularly sees cases of inmates who have remained in prison past the dates they should have been moved, with an underlying issue appearing to be a lack of capacity at halfway houses. The Bureau of Prisons contracts with 160 halfway houses offering more than 10,000 beds. It’s unclear how often they are at maximum capacity. additional space. More than 8,200 inmates are in halfway houses. Pavlo said, "I have families calling halfway houses every single day asking when there will be space. What’s frustrating is that it’s so discombobulated.” The First Step Act, signed in 2018 by President Trump, was enacted to give an opportunity for “minimum-risk” or “low-risk” offenders to receive shortened sentences. Supporters believe the law can cut harsh sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, reduce recidivism and help lower the prison population, while lessening racial disparities in the justice system. Ames Grawert of the Brennan Center for Justice said it wouldn’t be surprising if inmates aren’t being released to halfway houses as soon as they should be because of capacity, but it’s up to Congress to ensure the BOP has the funding to implement the law and the infrastructure is in place.


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