The Justice Department will begin transferring thousands of inmates out of federal prisons this week as part of the First Step Act signed by President Trump more than three years ago. The department is spelling out how “time credits” for prisoners will work, the Associated Press reports. The law encourages inmates to participate in programs aimed at reducing recidivism, which could let them out of prison earlier. It also eases mandatory minimum sentences and gives judges more discretion in sentencing.. It isn’t clear how many inmates will be released. The department would only say that “thousands” are being affected. Under First Step, inmates are eligible to earn time credits — 10 days to 15 days of credit for every 30 days they take part in programs to reduce recidivism, such as anger management and drug treatment to educational, work and social skills classes.
The announcement of a finalized rule comes after the department’s inspector general sounded an alarm that the Bureau of Prisons had not applied the earned time credits to about 60,000 federal inmates who had completed the programs. The Biden administration has faced increased pressure from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers to put in place additional aspects of the First Step Act, and the bureau has been accused of dragging its feet. There has been a significant staffing shortage at the bureau for years, and that has pressed teachers, cooks, nurses and other workers into service as correctional officers. Employees have long argued that pulling them away from their other duties to guard inmates slows action on the First Step Act because they have less time to teach classes, review release paperwork and provide inmate services. Inmates being released will be sent to supervised release programs, released to home confinement or transferred into halfway houses.