An NBC report aired last Sunday blasted the Dept of Justice for botching the award of First Step Act earned-time credits. “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, NBC quoted prisoner advocacy groups, inmates and BOP officials as saying.
Even the Biden administration’s attempt to clarify 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.
“It shouldn’t be this complicated and it shouldn’t take this long,”
NBC quoted Kevin Ring, president of FAMM, as saying. “Here we are, four years later, and it’s maddening.”
The BOP gave NBC data showing that as of June 18, more than 8,600 inmates have gotten sentence recalculations and are slated for earlier release due to ETCs. But the BOP’s own data identified about 66,600 inmates eligible to receive ETCs.
NBC quoted BOP officials as saying, “We have no data which suggests inmates had their release dates delayed.”
Others are not so confident.
“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,”
- Walter Pavlo, president of the consulting firm Prisonology LLC, and a Forbes contributor told NBC.
Making the logjam worse is the revision to PATTERN a month ago. While the change increase the number of points an inmate could have while still being eligible, the change quietly modified some of the point reductions inmates could earn. Completing a GED used to earn a -4, but now only earns a -2. Completing RDAP fell from a -6 to a -4. Past points for violence increased as well.
The effect of the change was to make some inmates who had been eligible for ETCs suddenly ineligible, further jamming up the calculation works. Worse, some inmates who received adjusted release dates have had those dates rescinded.
DOJ, First Step Annual Report (April 17, 2022)