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The First Step Act—How Will It Help You or an Inmate in Federal Prison?
President Trump supports this new bill but what will it really do for federal inmates? Is it enough, does it do enough? What will it really do for the men and women in federal prison? Will it help them to get out of prison early? Read and find out!
But, if this bill passes the Senate, what will it really do for the inmates already in federal and state prisons and the defendants currently waiting to go to federal and state prisons? Currently, the Bureau of Prisons already has four (4) programs that can reduce the time of incarceration of a federal inmate. The 500-Hour Residential Drug Abuse Program, dubbed RDAP, provides sentence reductions of 6-months, 9-months, and 12-months, depending upon the federal inmate's initial sentence length. In addition, the inmate can get up to 6 months of Halfway House associated with the RDAP sentence reduction. That allows the inmate to leave prison up to 18-months early. Michael Frantz, Director of Jail Time Consulting states, "The criteria of the RDAP program is strict and your chances of getting into this program and receiving the sentence reduction and early release from prison is much is much greater if you contact a knowledgeable prison consultant prior to your plea agreement." It is essential to know what to say and what not to say when the defendant is in the very important Presentence Investigation Interview which is held after the plea agreement or after a defendant is found guilty at trial. That is critical and essential!
When looking over the First Step Act and what it currently says, is it comparable to the RDAP Program? Is it even close? The answer is a resounding "No!" This will be explained later.
What about the second BOP program that allows eligible inmates to leave prison up to 12-months early, the Second Chance Act, (SCA). Is the First Step Act comparable to the Second Chance Act? The Second Chance Act allows eligible inmates to leave prison up to a maximum of 12 months early, part of that time is spent in a Halfway House and part is spent in Home Detention at the inmate's own home. The SCA is an exceptional program to reduce recidivism and rewards high-risk inmates with a better opportunity to not recidivate upon release. It allows them the opportunity for longer halfway house stays and longer periods of home detention instead of staying in federal prison. What makes an inmate a high-risk inmate? Many things including type of offense, prior convictions, restitution issues, fines, white-collar or blue collar, current family situation, current financial situation, and many, many more. Call Jail Time Consulting, the leader in placing inmates into the Second Chance Act program since 2008, for details and eligibility criteria for this program which is also a Federal Law.
When looking over the First Step Act and what it currently does, is it comparable to the Second Chance Act? Is it even close? The answer again is a resounding "No!" Although the Second Chance Act is a federal law and if the First Step Act passes the Senate, it will become a federal law, will inmates have the same problems with certain BOP staff? Currently, inmates are not successful in achieving Second Chance Act Halfway House and Home Detention on their own. They do not have the knowledge, (what the Second Chance Act requires), the resources, (Computer, Internet, Legal Case Law Files,) ability to file to all four (4) entities, or the time and materials necessary to write the 40-page submission documents. Inmates need to secure the assistance of a professional prison consultant company like Jail Time Consulting, the leader in Second Chance Act submissions, in order to reap the rewards of this federal law and BOP program. Will the First Step Act face the same opposition with BOP staff members? Most likely and Jail Time Consulting is already preparing a First Step Act program to assist inmates when it passes the Senate and becomes a federal law.
The third program the Bureau of Prisons offers that will reduce the time of incarceration of a federal inmate and which is also offered to State inmates via their own Department of Corrections, (DOC) is the Compassionate Release Program. This is an exceptional program for immediate release for certain inmates who fit into one of the six avenues of eligibility:
1. Elderly Inmates with Medical Conditions,
2. "NEW LAW" Elderly Inmates 70 years old or older, no severe Medical Conditions,
3. Any Inmate with a Terminal Medical Condition,
4. Any Inmate with a Progressive Illness or Debilitating Injury,
5. Non-Medical Circumstances—
6. Non-Medical Circumstances—
Although this program is only for limited inmates, it does offer immediate release possibilities and is an exceptional program. Again, call Jail Time Consulting, at 954-740-2253, if you want to see if a loved one is eligible for this program.
The final program the Bureau of Prisons offers as does many state DOC's is the Commutation of Sentence Program. This program can also offer immediate release and again is limited to a certain group of inmates. There are four (4) different types of relief the inmate may seek:
• Reduction in Prison Sentence only;
• Remission of Fine and/or Restitution only;
• Reduction of Prison Sentence and Remission of Fine and/or Restitution;
• Reduction of a period of probation, supervised release, or special parole.
There is not a defined list of circumstances or conditions which would qualify an inmate for a Commutation of Sentence. Each case is decided on its individual merits. Jail Time Consulting provides the appropriate forms, research, documentation, and instructions then actually complete the Petition for Commutation of Sentence for the inmate and family.
So, we know what the current four BOP programs will do for federal inmates, so what actually will the First Step Act do for inmates, in its current state? The First Step Act is only for federal inmates and not state inmates in state Department of Corrections. State Departments of Corrections have their own programs for sentence reduction and some are similar to the First Step Act. Call 954-740-2253 for details. The First Step Act has three main sections that pertain to federal inmates. The overall purpose of the bill is to reduce federal prison overcrowding which is currently at 42-46% nationally on the average. Some prisons are overcrowded by a much higher percentage and even reports of bunk beds in and near bathroom areas have emerged.
In this current First Step Act bill there are "earned time credits" that the inmate may receive by signing up for, taking, and completing certain vocational and rehabilitative programs offered by the prison. These "earned time credits" could then be used to reduce the term of incarceration of the inmate. One problem is that there is no correlation at this time between the amount of "earned time credits" that can be earned for each vocational and rehabilitative program. Will the "earned time credits" reduce the inmate's period in prison by one day, one week, or what? The second problem is who makes this determination. If the Bureau of Prisons, via the Unit Team, makes this decision, the "earned time credits" are worthless. Unit Teams are notorious for not helping inmates, not answering questions of inmates, and not wanting inmates to get out even one day early! So, do they make the decision? If they do, the program will not work. Finally, what vocational and rehabilitative programs? Anyone who has been to federal prison knows there are no rehabilitative or vocational programs other than RDAP, and that program already exists. So what programs does the inmate get "earned time credits" for?
The bill also has a provision to increase "Good Time" to 54 days a year that a "well behaved" inmate can earn. What is new about that? Current law allows an inmate to earn 15% Good Time or 54 days a year of "Good Time". The problem is that the method of determining Good Time used by the Bureau of Prisons only allows the inmate 47 days a year of "Good Time." Inmates call it "funny math" but there is nothing funny about it. Inmates currently lose 7 days of "Good Time" per year under this system. So, what is going to change? Proponents state that because this applies retroactively it will allow some inmates to be released the day the bill goes into effect. That is just not true. Unless the Congress stops the BOP using "funny math", nothing will change at all.
The bill also authorizes $250 million dollars over five years to be given to the BOP for vocational and rehabilitative programs for inmates. Vocational and Rehabilitative programs? I would like to see where that money actually goes! There will have to be much better oversight than that which already exists and it must be scrutinized, analyzed, and dissected. Otherwise it will be a huge waste of taxpayer money and no help to inmates at all.
Critics say that the bill excludes some inmates with prior criminal histories, non-US citizens, and inmates convicted of high-level offenses. (What constitutes a high-level offense?) Are white collar inmates with large amounts of restitution considered high-level? Is high-level tied to length of sentence? Is it tied to number of charges? No one knows. In addition, the bill will not eliminate, reduce or limit mandatory minimum sentences which are tied to drugs and various other offenses. Many critics in the Senate say that the goal is to simply reduce the overcrowding in federal prison and not address the root causes. I personally believe the act does not go far enough and wish it would do more for inmates and get them home sooner. I also believe several areas of the bill have to be addressed, corrected, and modified so that the purposes and objectives of the bill are met.
About Michael Frantz
Michael Frantz is a leading Federal and State Prison Consultant and Director with Jail Time Consulting (JTC). Jail Time Consulting has five (5) offices nationwide and has clients in every one of the 209 federal prisons nationwide and many clients in state prisons throughout the United States. The staff of JTC provides sentence reduction programs, research, and many pre- and post-sentencing services for their clients. Michael has authored a bestselling book on federal prison titled, "Jail Time, What you need to know…Before you go to federal prison!" He has also authored over thirty-five JT Special Reports© on various federal prison issues affecting both the inmate and his/her family. They are available on the website. He writes a daily blog on the JTC website https://www.jailtimeconsulting.com/
Michael Frantz (Director)
Jail Time Consulting