First Step Act and its Benefits

First Step Act and its Benefits

A Comprehensive Review of Federal Prison Reform

What is the First Step Act and its Benefits?

The First Step Act, endorsed into law by President Donald Trump in December 2018, is one of the most impactful federal prison and sentencing reforms in recent years. Its primary objective is to diminish recidivism rates and mass incarceration through comprehensive prison reforms and an expansion of judicial discretion in sentencing for nonviolent crimes.


The legislation includes several important provisions:

1. Inmates can earn time credits towards prerelease custody or supervised release by participating in evidence-based, productive activities.

2. The compassionate release process will be expanded, and home confinement opportunities will increase.

3. The Department of Justice will conduct assessments and risk analyses to assign risk levels to inmates.

4. Restraints for pregnant prisoners will be banned.

5. Incarcerated parents will be required to be placed in proximity to their children.

6. Officers will receive de-escalation training to help manage difficult situations.

7. Existing treatment, vocational training, and mental health support programs will be expanded.

The First Step Act significantly changes federal prison and sentencing procedures to reduce the chances of inmates reoffending and help them reintegrate into society. It includes important provisions that revamp rehabilitation opportunities, sentencing guidelines, compassionate release, and more. One key reform is the expansion of evidence-based programs and productive activities for prisoners to reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

Upon successful completion of these programs, eligible inmates can earn time credits, which can be used to obtain early release or supervised release. This initiative is intended to promote participation in vocational training, educational courses, mental health treatment, and other activities aimed at successful rehabilitation. These earned time credits allow prisoners to move to halfway houses or home confinement sooner. Additionally, participation in these programs is evaluated through a comprehensive risk assessment process.

The Act encompasses a series of significant reforms designed to cultivate fairness and empathy within the federal corrections system. It broadens the criteria for compassionate release, ensuring that more individuals qualify for early release based on compelling circumstances. In addition, the Act prohibits the use of restraints on pregnant inmates in the majority of situations, a measure intended to underscore the government’s dedication to upholding the human rights of incarcerated individuals. Moreover, the Act endeavors to refine sentencing practices by retroactively applying the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 and granting judges greater discretion in cases involving nonviolent offenses. These adjustments are pivotal for nurturing successful reentry and rehabilitation initiatives within the federal corrections system.

Good Time Credit – First Step Act

Once convicted, individuals face risk and need assessments (RNA) by correctional agencies to evaluate their reoffense risk and compliance with correctional rules. These tools guide authorities in shaping targeted interventions, ensuring public safety, and utilizing resources efficiently. RNA tools, now a staple in most U.S. correctional systems, promise to elevate correctional standards. However, their current widespread versions are often antiquated and underperforming, falling short of their transformative potential.

After being convicted, individuals undergo risk and need assessments conducted by correctional agencies to evaluate their likelihood of reoffending and their adherence to correctional rules. These assessments help authorities tailor interventions, ensure public safety, and use resources effectively.

The First Step Act significantly changes how federal prisoners can earn time credits for early release from prison or transfer to prerelease custody. The main changes are to the Good Conduct Time (GCT) system and the addition of new earned time credits. Under the Act, the calculation for GCT is changed from 47 to 54 days per year. Besides GCT, eligible prisoners can earn time credits by completing evidence-based recidivism reduction programs. Prisoners can earn 10-15 days of credit for every 30 days served, with the amount determined by their risk level and program participation. This revised good time credit system aims to reward prisoners for demonstrating model behavior and good conduct.

Types of Programs – Earned Time Credits?

After undergoing a comprehensive risk and needs assessment, each works with counselors to create a customized plan that includes programming options matching their talents, needs, and interests. The types of programs available are designed to help inmates develop essential life skills, treatment modalities to overcome addictions and trauma, educational advancement to increase employability, and other evidence-based interventions tailored to addressing criminal risk factors.

While serving their sentences, inmates can demonstrate their commitment to rehabilitation through programming participation and redeem time off their terms through educational, vocational, or counseling accomplishments. Over the last few years, the BOP crafted “standardized Evidence-Based Recidivism Reduction (EBRR) Programs and Productive Activities (PAs).” These are also referred to as “First Step Act Approved Programs.

Are All Federal Offenders Eligible for First Step Act Time Credits?

Not All Prisoners Can Earn Early Release

When the First Step Act became law in 2018, it brought hope of earlier freedom for some federal prisoners. But the reality is more complicated. Many inmates remain excluded despite expanding opportunities to earn time credits off sentences.

Life without parole sentences come with no chance for credits. Those convicted of certain violent crimes like murder, terrorism, and child exploitation also face a firm “no.” If you’re finishing up a supervision term for a previous violation, you must complete it before qualifying for credits.

Then come the “maybes” – offenders with limited eligibility. To earn credits, those guilty of second-degree murder without a firearm or other felonies may need to join recidivism-reduction programs. But access can be restricted. The fine print creates a maze of uncertainty. Even among those technically eligible, bureaucratic roadblocks and limited program availability can dash hopes. Early release often remains elusive.

There is surprisingly little information available to help people calculate the amount of time they will spend in the federal prison system. This website was developed and launched to address this issue. The passage of The First Step Act in 2018 was a historic achievement, but it was just the first step in a long journey toward reform.

In the context of federal prisons, incarcerated individuals can reduce their sentence by 10-15 days for every 30 days of active participation in certain programs. Advocates of a particular law have been urging the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to expand the utilization of home confinement. They recommend that, whenever feasible, individuals with lower risk levels and fewer needs should be considered for placement on home confinement for the maximum allowable duration under Section 3624(c)(2). This section permits home confinement for 10% of the term of imprisonment or six months, whichever is shorter. Additionally, here are comprehensive guidelines on calculating a federal prison sentence.

Total Imposed Sentence: This is the starting point.

Good Time Credit: Calculated by reducing the Total Imposed Sentence by 54 days per year, starting day one.

Experience the benefits of FSA Time Credits! You can earn credits that reduce your sentence by completing approved Evidence-Based Recidivism Reduction (EBRR) Programs or Productive Activities (PAs) tailored to your individual risk and needs assessment. These credits start accumulating after your initial Team Meeting, allowing you to make meaningful progress from the very beginning of your journey. For every 30 days of the sentence served, you receive ten credits per (30-day) month, empowering you to take control of your future. Start accumulating credits from the first day of the month following your initial meeting and pave the way to a brighter tomorrow.

After the second team meeting, which typically takes place around six months after the first, the rate at which FSA Time Credits are earned increases to 15 days for every 30 days served. Similar to the initial credits, additional FSA Time Credits accumulate on the first day of the month following this second team meeting.

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