The First Step Act allows for prisoners to earn credit towards spending the last year of their sentence on home confine or in a halfway house by participating in programs recommended by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”).
There is also a provision that allows each prisoner to receive 54 days of good time credits by staying out of trouble and programming.
Below, the statute is broken down with the applicable subsections referenced by letter and in the order that they are listed in the statute itself.
Section 602. Home Confinement For Low-Risk Prisoners.
Section 602 of the First Step Act changes current law to benefit prisoners considered to be “low-risk.” This law makes it clear that Congress intends for low-risk inmates to spend as much time as possible on home confinement.
What is “Home Confinement?”
Home confinement, also known as “house arrest,” or “electronic monitoring,” and is an alternative to prison. Generally, home confinement is when authorities restrict prisoners travel by requiring a person to remain at their residence. Restrictions on travel would also include travel outside of the county, city, state, or country.
How Much Time May You Be Eligible For?
The First Step Act directs Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) to place these lower risk prisoners on home confinement during the end of their sentence “for the maximum amount of time” permitted by law.
How is the Old System Different From the New One?
Under the old law, inmates could spend up to 10% of their sentence, or 6 months (whichever amount of time is less), on home confinement.
Now, the First Step Act directs the Federal Bureau of Prisons to ensure “to the extent practicable” that all lower risk inmates spend up to 6 months at the end of their sentence in their own home.
Does The New Home Confinement System Apply to “Extended Pre-Release Custody Periods”?
The limitation on serving ten percent of the sentence, or six months, whichever is less, on home confinement does not apply to the extended prerelease custody period that may be earned through time credits under the bill.
Section 101. Risk and Needs Assessment Program.
Within 210 days after the First Step Act becoming law (July 18, 2019), the Attorney General is required to develop a “Risk and Needs Assessment System.”
How Will the “Risk and Needs Assessment Program” Work?
The Risk and Needs Assessment system determines an individual prisoner “recidivism risk,” and helps the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) staff decide which programs individual prisoners should participate in.
This new system will also be used to provide guidance on housing decisions in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Who Will Be Assessed?
The Federal Bureau of Prisons is currently applying the assessment to all prisoners with short/close release dates. If your prison term is short, you may be assessed upon admission or shortly thereafter.
B. Prisoners Can Accumulate Time Credits Toward More Halfway House or Home Confinement Time.
Eligible prisoners who successfully complete recidivism reduction programming or “productive activities” are eligible to receive time credits that increase the amount of time a prisoner spends in pre-release custody.
Pre-release custody is typically either time in a halfway house or on home confinement, but both options allow a prisoner to sleep outside of a Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) prison.
How will the time credits work?
- All eligible prisoners will earn 10 days of time credit for every 30 days of successful program participation;
- Prisoners who the Federal Bureau of Prisons determines are at a “minimum” or “low risk” for recidivating and have not increased their risk over 2 consecutive assessments, will earn an additional 5 days of time credit for every 30 days of successful program participation.
C. The First Step Act Allows Time Credits to Apply Towards Up to One Year of Supervised Release.
The First Step Act provides that “the Director of the Bureau of Prisons may transfer the prisoner to begin any such term of supervised release at an earlier date, not more than 12 months, based on the application of time credits under section 3632.”
In other words, up to one year of the time credits earned under this Act may be used to reduce the post-confinement period of supervised release.
D. Many Prisoners Excluded from Earning Time Credits
Whether or not you may be excluded from eligibility is determined by this statue. The exclusions cover a litany of violent, sex, gang and drug crimes.
E. Prisoners Reassessed At Least Every Year.
The new law requires Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) to individually reassess each inmate who is participating in the risk assessment programs or “productive activities” at least once every year.
“Medium risk” or “high risk” prisoners (“prisoners who have less than 5 years until their release and are at a medium or high risk of recidivating”) must receive more frequent evaluations.
F. 54 Days of Good Conduct Time Credit.
The First Step Act requires the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) to award 54 days of good conduct time for each year of the sentence that was imposed. The law changes the way that prorated good conduct time is credited.
Under the First Step Act, “credit for the last year of imprisonment shall be credited on the first day of the last year of the term of imprisonment.”
What If I am Already In Prison Before the Law Goes Into Effect?
While the Federal Bureau of Prisons will begin applying this provision on July 19, 2019, this provision of the law is retroactive. Basically, even if you go into prison prior to the effective date, you still may receive all appropriate credits before his sentence is due to end.
G. Pre-release Custody or Supervised Release Transfer for “Time Credits.”
Inmates who earn credits for participating in the First Step Act evidence-based recidivism risk reduction programs may be transferred to pre-release custody or supervised release. (Transfer to supervised release cannot be for more than 12 months.)
Inmates with enough credits and minimum-risk or low-risk assessment for the last two assessment periods are automatically eligible for transfer.
Inmates who are otherwise qualified to use their time credits for a pre-release custody transfer but were not low-risk for the last 2 assessments can still obtain a transfer, but they must obtain approval of their petition for transfer by their warden, who must determine that:
- the prisoner would not be a danger to society if transferred;
- the prisoner made a good faith effort to lower their recidivism risk level; and
- the prisoner is unlikely to recidivate.
H. Pre-Release Terms.
- Electronic Monitoring. Inmates sent to home confinement are subject to 24-hour electronic monitoring. This is consistent with existing federal law. The prisoners on home confinement can only leave their home with permission for certain allowed activities such as work or community service.
- Must Serve at Least 85% of Your Sentence. Any prisoner placed on home confinement must remain on home confinement until they have served at least 85% of their imposed sentence.