Issues That May Affect the Release of Prisoners Under the First Step Act

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b2ap3_thumbnail_shutterstock_92239273.jpgThe United States has some of the highest rates of incarceration in the world. With more than 200,000 inmates who have been convicted of federal crimes, the government has been looking for ways to reduce the prison population and allow those who have served time to be released and reintegrate into the community. While Congress passed the First Step Act in 2018, allowing certain inmates to be released based on Earned Time Credits, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had not taken steps to implement these new policies until 2022. However, there are a number of issues that may affect prisoners’ ability to secure early releases.

Racial Disparities in Risk Assessment Tools

Thousands of prisoners have become eligible for release under the First Step Act. Those who are in prison may qualify for home confinement or residence in a halfway house as they begin to take steps to ensure that they will be able to rejoin society successfully. Those who are currently under home confinement or in residential transition centers may be eligible for a full release, allowing them to secure housing and employment.

Unfortunately, the implementation of these policies has been flawed, and one issue that has been raised by criminal justice advocates is the use of risk assessment tools to determine whether prisoners may qualify for early release. These software programs evaluate a number of factors to estimate the likelihood that a person will engage in criminal activity or violate other rules and restrictions after their release. Civil rights groups have analyzed the decisions made using these tools, and they have found that there are significant racial disparities, with Black, Hispanic, and Asian inmates being much more likely to be classified in the wrong risk category. Because of these disparities, people of color may struggle to receive an early release, even if they have earned sufficient time credits under the First Step Act.

Concerns About Covid Affect Prisoner Release

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the BOP has struggled to ensure that inmates and prison personnel are safe from infection. The CARES Act, which was passed in March of 2020, allowed prisoners with underlying health conditions to be transferred to home confinement. Around 5,000 prisoners were released through this program in May and June of 2020. However, in many cases, additional prisoners who would qualify for release have been required to stay in prison, and the overall prison population has increased by more than 20,000 since 2020.

While the implementation of the First Step Act should be able to reduce the prison population, many prisons have struggled to put these policies into effect due to ongoing concerns related to the pandemic. Staff shortages, overcrowded prisons, and increases in Covid infections due to the Omicron variant have led to delays in prisoner releases. In some cases, prisoners who qualify for transfer to home confinement or other early release options have been required to stay in prison, without any indication of their expected release date.

Contact Our Connecticut Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer

Prisoners who are eligible for release under the First Step Act may face a number of obstacles. To ensure that their rights will be protected, these prisoners can work with an experienced lawyer to determine their legal options. At Woolf Law Firm, LLC, we can provide legal help to inmates who are looking to secure an early release. We also represent defendants in federal criminal cases, providing them with a strong defense against the charges they are facing. Contact our Hartford criminal law attorney at 860-290-8690 to schedule a free consultation today.

Sources:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/walterpavlo/2022/01/22/bureau-of-prisons-begins-implementing-first-step-act-with-release-of-thousands-in-custody/?sh=2c1fb542391b

https://www.npr.org/2022/01/26/1075509175/justice-department-algorithm-first-step-act

https://www.forbes.com/sites/walterpavlo/2022/02/07/statistics-show-federal-bureau-of-prisons-unable-to-implement-key-policies-during-crisis/?sh=7fdda9977585

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