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Thousands of U.S. Inmates Deserve First Step Act Release, Critics Say

Thousands of nonviolent federal prisoners eligible for early release under the First Step Act remain locked up nearly four years later because of confusion and bureaucratic delays, say prisoner advocacy groups, affected inmates and former federal prison officials. The Biden administration’s attempt to identify qualified inmates and transferring them to home confinement or another form of supervised release appears to be falling short, NBC News reports. The federal Bureau of Prisons administers the law. Its director, Michael Carvajal, a Trump administration holdover, announced his retirement in January and no replacement has been named. “It shouldn’t be this complicated and it shouldn’t take this long,” said Kevin Ring of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). “Here we are, four years later, and it’s maddening.”

The Justice Department published a rule in January on an integral feature of the law in which inmates can earn so-called time credits through participation in prison and work programs 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 released as early as they should be. Courtney Curtis, a former Missouri state lawmaker sentenced last year to 21 months in federal prison for wire fraud, said his time credits have not been adequately counted after he participated in programs such as “Be Successful,” “Drug Education” and “Talk to your Dr.” The prison bureau says that as of June 18, more than 8,600 inmates have had their sentences recalculated and are slated for release after applying their time credits. With the bureau’s data identifying 66,600 inmates who are eligible to earn time credits, "We estimate that there are thousands of inmates who will not receive the full benefit — days off of their federal prison sentence ... simply because the agency is uncertain how to calculate these benefits,” said Walter Pavlo of the consulting firm Prisonology LLC, whose experts include former Bureau of Prisons case managers, wardens and sentence computation professionals.


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