by Photo courtesy of the Federal Bureau of Prisons

A law signed by President Donald Trump nearly three years ago enables the Department of Justice to release thousands of inmates from federal prisons this week.  

The new rule has been submitted to the Federal Register and is defining how “time credits” for prisoners will work. The First Step Act of 2018 intends to encourage inmates to “invest their time and energy” in programs that reduce recidivism and lead to early release, according to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. 

The law will also ease mandatory minimum sentences. 

Though transfers began this week, it remains unclear how many inmates will be released. The DOJ said it would be “thousands” that are being affected. 

In its implementation, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has begun transferring eligible inmates out of facilities to either a supervised release program or into Residential Reentry Centers (RRC) or home confinement (HC). 

The bipartisan law allows inmates to earn time credits 10 to 15 days of time credits for every 30 days of successful participation in Evidence Based Recidivism Reduction Programs and Productive Activities. The earned credits can be applied toward earlier placement in pre-release custody, such as RRCs and HC, but is subject to BOP’s determination of eligibility. 

The department said at the BOP Director’s discretion, up to 12 months of credit can be applied toward "Supervised Release". 

“The First Step Act, a critical piece of bipartisan legislation, promised a path to an early return home for eligible incarcerated people who invest their time and energy in programs that reduce recidivism,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “Today, the Department of Justice is doing its part to honor this promise, and is pleased to implement this important program.”

The announcement comes after the department’s inspector general discovered the BOP had not applied time credits to about 60,000 federal inmates who completed these programs.

The implementation of this will occur on a rolling basis, beginning with immediate releases for inmates whose Time Credits earned exceed their days remaining to serve, are less than 12 months from release, and have a Supervised Release term. 

According to the DOJ, some of these transfers have already begun. More will take place in the weeks and months ahead as BOP calculates and applies time credits for eligible incarcerated individuals.

The final rule will be published by the Federal Register in the coming weeks and will take immediate effect. 

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