Washington, DC - The Department of Justice announced several significant developments in the implementation of the First Step Act (FSA) in a report published Wednesday.
“Today is another milestone in implementing the First Step Act,” said Attorney General William P. Barr. “Beginning today, inmates will have even greater incentive to participate in evidence-based programs that prepare them for productive lives after incarceration. This is what Congress intended with this bipartisan bill. The First Step Act is an important reform to our criminal justice system, and the Department of Justice is committed to implementing the Act fully and fairly.”
Some of the key developments are described here:
- In accordance with the First Step Act and due on Jan. 15, 2020, all inmates in the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) system have received an initial assessment using the Justice Department’s risk and needs assessment tool known as the Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Need (PATTERN). Initially released last July, the tool is designed to measure risk of recidivism of inmates.
- As of Jan. 15, 2020, inmates will be assigned to participate in evidence-based recidivism reduction programs and productive activities based on an initial needs assessment conducted by BOP. Participation and completion of those assigned programs and activities can lead to placement in pre-release custody or a 12-month sentence reduction under the First Step Act. A list of these programs will be published on the BOP’s website.
- In response to the public comments received and in coordination with the Independent Review Committee (IRC), the Justice Department has made changes to PATTERN that enhance its effectiveness, fairness and transparency. These changes had only a slight effect on PATTERN’s high-level of predictability and include:
- Adding a dynamic measure of offender’s “infraction free” period during his or her current term of incarceration;
- Modifying programming measures by adding psychology treatment programs (Bureau Rehabilitation and Values Enhancement Program (BRAVE), Challenge, Skills Program, Sex Offender Treatment (both residential and non-residential), Steps Toward Awareness, Growth, and Emotional Strength Program (STAGES), and Step Down programs), the faith-based Life Connections Program (LCP), and the BOP’s Drug Education program, to the “Number of programs completed (any)” measure and combine technical/vocational and Federal Prison Industries (UNICOR) into a new work programming measure; and
- Removing Age of first arrest/conviction and voluntary surrender.
- The department will also begin a pilot program to publish recidivism data and other First Step Act updates on a quarterly basis.
The efficient and effective implementation of the First Step Act continues to be a priority for the Department of Justice and for the Trump Administration. In this follow-up report, the Justice Department highlights changes made to PATTERN as a direct result of public input received during the 45-day public comment period that followed its publication in July 2019. National Institute of Justice (NIJ) held special listening sessions in early September 2019. During the sessions, NIJ and its partners engaged with stakeholders to ensure BOP can implement the most equitable, effective, and predictive tool possible, and to meet the goals of the FSA.
The BOP is working to incorporate these recommended changes to the risk assessment tool and will conduct a review to determine which inmates may have their risk score and level adjusted. In the interim, inmates will continue to be assigned to programs and activities based on their risk and needs and if eligible, will receive credit upon completion. The department believes that any updates to an inmate's risk score based on these changes will be minimal.
The department continues to work with the IRC and our experts to identify ways to improve PATTERN, while maintaining its high level of predictability, in addition to the feedback received from a range of stakeholders. This input has been invaluable as we strive to ensure the equity and effectiveness of PATTERN.
In addition, the Justice Department will soon release a funding opportunity to support continued implementation of the FSA. In the coming weeks, the NIJ will solicit proposals for a five-year project to review and revalidate PATTERN. For more information visit the NIJ webpage .
Implementation Progress, New and Expanded BOP Programs Under FSA.
The FSA provides for eligible inmates to earn time credits if they participate and complete assigned evidence-based recidivism reduction programs or productive activities. It also provides for the expansion of existing programs that allow for compassionate release and home confinement.
Releases for Good Conduct Time. In July 2019, over 3,100 federal prison inmates were released from the Bureau of Prisons’ custody as a result of the increase in good conduct time under the Act.
Retroactive Resentencing. The Act’s retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (reducing the disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine threshold amounts triggering mandatory minimum sentences) has resulted in 2,471 orders for sentence reductions.
Compassionate Release. The BOP updated its policies to reflect the new procedures for inmates to obtain “compassionate release” sentence reductions under 18 U.S.C. Section 3582 and 4205(g). Since the Act was signed into law, 124 requests have been approved, as compared to 34 total in 2018.
Expanded Use of Home Confinement. The FSA authorizes BOP to maximize the use of home confinement for low risk offenders. Currently, there are approximately 2,000 inmates on Home Confinement. The legislation also expands a pilot program for eligible elderly and terminally ill offenders to be transitioned to Home Confinement as part of a pilot program. Since enactment of the law, 379 inmates have been approved for participation under the pilot program.
Drug Treatment. The BOP has always had a robust drug treatment strategy. Offenders with an identified need are provided an individualized treatment plan to address their need. In FY 2019, approximately 14,800 offenders enrolled in Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP), almost 21,000 offenders enrolled in Non-residential drug treatment, and almost 23,000 offenders participated in Drug Education.
Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT). The FSA requires BOP to assess the availability of and the capacity to treat heroin and opioid abuse through evidence-based programs, including medication-assisted treatment. In the wake of the opioid crisis, this initiative is important to improve reentry outcomes. Every inmate within 15 months of release who might qualify for MAT has been screened.
Effective Re-Entry Programming. FSA implementation includes helping offenders successfully reintegrate into the community – a critical factor in preventing recidivism and, in turn, reducing the number of crime victims. Finding gainful employment is an important part of that process. In furtherance of this goal, the BOP launched a “Ready to Work” initiative to connect private employers with inmates nearing release under the FSA.
Other BOP programs directed towards the full implementation of the FSA include the operation of twenty pilot dog programs, the development of a youth mentoring program, the identification of a dyslexia screening tool, and issuance of a new policy for its employees to carry and store personal weapons on BOP institution property. BOP has also updated existing guidance and training concerning the use of restraints on pregnant inmates, as well as verified that existing policies and contracts comply with the FSA requirement to provide sanitary products to female offenders free of charge. BOP also offers de-escalation training to its employees and officers in accordance with the Act. Finally, BOP has updated its mental health awareness training regarding inmates with psychiatric disorders, and more than 33,700 BOP employees have already received the updated training.