Federal Prisoners Struggle to Receive Relief Under the First Step Act

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East Hartford Crime Law AttorneyThe First Step Act (FSA) is a federal law that was passed in 2018, and it was meant to help federal prisoners re-enter society successfully after being released. Unfortunately, there have been problems with the implementation of the FSA, and many prisoners have been unable to fully make use of the programs that should be available to them and earn credits that allow them to be released early. Those who are facing criminal charges and those who have been convicted of federal offenses will need to understand how this law affects them and how they can take steps to demonstrate that they are eligible for early release. 

Issues Affecting Minimum Security Prisoners Under the FSA

Of the 150,000 people incarcerated in federal prisons in the United States, around 24,000, or 15 percent, are classified as minimum security prisoners. These prisoners should have been afforded rights under the FSA that would allow them to earn credits against their incarceration time and be released to home confinement or other forms of less restrictive custody. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected many minimum security prisoners' ability to be released early.

Even though the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had a pandemic plan that should have allowed it to respond to COVID-19 outbreaks, it failed to properly implement this plan. During the height of the pandemic, many minimum security prisoners were placed in Special Housing Units, which are usually used to isolate prisoners as a form of discipline. They were also denied visitation and were unable to communicate with their family members, and they were unable to participate in programs that would allow them to earn credits that would allow for early release. While the CARES Act that was passed by Congress in 2020 allowed prisoners with health issues to serve sentences on home confinement, these provisions were not implemented consistently, and many prisoners were forced to remain in federal facilities even when they should have been able to be released early.

Senators Durbin and Grassley Identify Ongoing FSA Issues

As the Bureau of Prisons continues to address issues related to the FSA, lawmakers have raised concerns about policies and procedures that have affected the rights of prisoners. Recently, Senators Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland noting a number of problems, including errors made by an automated system used to calculate earned time credits (ETCs) and the implementation of a rule restricting prisoners' ability to earn ETCs within 18 months of their scheduled release date, even though this rule was not supported by the First Step Act. The letter noted that prisoners on prerelease custody should be able to earn ETCs, even though the BOP currently does not allow them to do so. The senators also called for the improvement of risk assessment tools used to determine whether prisoners qualify for early release, ensuring that the policies followed by the BOP make efforts to avoid racial disparities.

Contact Our Hartford Federal Crimes Defense Lawyer

Prisoners who have been convicted of federal crimes face a number of difficulties, but they should be able to receive benefits under the First Step Act. Those who are struggling to receive the relief they deserve can consult with an attorney to determine how they can protect their rights and make use of the available programs to get released early and achieve success as they reintegrate into society. At Woolf Law Firm, LLC, we provide representation for those who are defending against federal charges and for prisoners who have been convicted of federal crimes. Contact our Connecticut federal criminal defense attorney at 860-290-8690 to schedule a free consultation and learn how we can help with your case.

 

Sources:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/walterpavlo/2022/11/28/for-minimum-security-federal-prisoners-the-past-two-years-have-been-rocky/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/walterpavlo/2022/11/30/first-step-act-delays-continue-in-the-bureau-of-prisons-and-people-are-locked-up-beyond-what-the-law-states/

https://www.durbin.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/durbin-grassley-call-on-doj-to-fully-implement-earned-time-credit-for-eligible-prisoners-as-part-of-first-step-act

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