All You Need To Know About First Step Act Time Credits in 500 Words

All You Need To Know About First Step Act Time Credits in 500 Words

By this point, you’ve probably heard about the First Step Act. Media outlets like Vox called it “the most significant criminal justice reform legislation in years.” Politicians like former President Donald Trump described it as a “truly extraordinary … achievement” and as “landmark legislation.”

How The First Step Act “Time Credits” System Is Supposed To Work

Part of what made the First Step Act so important is its incentive program for federal prisoners. Under the First Step Act, incarcerated people can earn “time credits” to reduce their sentences. They do so by completing “evidence-based recidivism reduction programming” (sometimes called “EBRR programs”) and “productive activities.”

The First Step Act’s “time credits” system is sort of an extension of the concept of “good time” in prison. As most know, federal prisoners can move to home confinement or a residential reentry center a little bit sooner if they have good behavior in prison. In the same way, the First Step Act allows federal prisoners to move to home confinement or a residential reentry center a little bit sooner if they successfully complete programs and activities aimed at rehabilitation and being productive.

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This opportunity is only available for a narrow group of people in BOP custody. The only people that can earn an early release to home confinement or a residential reentry center are those that the BOP itself determines to have no or a low likelihood of recidivism. More simply, the only people who have a chance to get out early are those who the BOP doesn’t think will commit another crime.

What You Need To Know About How The System Has Worked So Far

Congress passed the First Step Act on Dec. 18, 2018, and President Trump signed it into law three days later. And the First Step Act specifically authorizes the BOP to “offer to prisoners who successfully participate in such programs and activities the incentives and rewards” “[b]eginning on the date of enactment….”

That green light to start offering incentives and rewards was three years ago. You’re probably thinking that the BOP has offered those incentives and rewards during that three-year time period. If you are, you’re wrong. In fact, according to the Office of Inspector General, “the BOP has not applied such statutorily earned time credits to any of the approximately 60,000 eligible inmates who may have completed EBRR programs or productive activities.”

Instead, the BOP has been waiting until Jan. 15, 2022, to start providing First Step Act incentives and rewards. According to the BOP, this is literally the very last day it can wait until before doing so. So, that’s the date the BOP picked.

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For months, Interrogating Justice has called on the BOP to start sooner. (You can read more about that here and here.) But Jan. 15, 2022, is now just one week away. And Americans need to think about what it means if the BOP still refuses to provide First Step Act time credits to those who earned them after that deadline comes and goes.

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