DOJ to Transfer Thousands of Federal Inmates Out of Prisons as Part of First Step Act

The Department of Justice announced that thousands of federal inmates will begin transferring out of prisons this week as part of the First Step Act signed into law by former President Donald Trump.

In December 2018, Trump signed the First Step Act (FSA), a criminal justice reform law, as a way to help get nonviolent inmates on a path to early release, reduce federal prison sentences for eligible inmates and get inmates involved in programs that reduce recidivism.

Inmates eligible for release will be placed in programs supervised by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). They can be sent to either Residential Reentry Centers (RRC) or to home confinement, according to the DOJ press release.

The department said the inmates who are up for immediate release include those who have earned more in "time credits" than what they have left to serve in their sentences, are less than 12 months away from finishing their sentences and have a supervised release term.

There isn't a definitive number on how many federal inmates are being released, but the Department of Justice has indicated that "thousands" would be affected by the new ruling, according to the Associated Press.

The department announced a new rule implementing the Time Credits program, which is a requirement for inmates in the FSA program. Under the law, eligible inmates can earn "time credits," which are reductions in sentence length for participating in recidivism reduction programs and activities.

According to the guidelines, prisoners can earn 10 to 15 days of time credits for every 30 days they successfully participate in Evidence Based Recidivism Reduction Programs (EBRR) and Productive Activities.

Such activities include a range of programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, learning English as a second language and cognitive behavioral therapy. Inmates can enroll in EBRRs like anger management, literacy, parenting and treatment programs, according to the BOP website.

Inmates are allowed to apply their credits toward earning earlier placements in the home confinement or RRCs pre-release custody programs. The BOP can accept up to 12 months of credit from an inmate to be applied toward supervised release.

Since the FSA was signed into law, 3,916 order requests for fair sentencing and retroactive sentence reductions have been granted. Another 4,029 requests for compassionate releases and reducing sentences have been approved, according to the BOP.

However, some prisoners say they were denied a reduction in their prison sentences, which is allowed by Congress under the FSA. The warden at Sheridan Prison in Oregon allegedly told inmates, "We are not doing FSA credits at this institution right now," Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

The BOP is required to fully implement the FSA no later than January 24, Forbes reported.

Federal Inmates Released
The Department of Justice said thousands of federal inmates are set to be released beginning this week as a part of the First Step Act. Above, the exterior of a Department of Justice building is photographed. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images