June 21, 2018: Mid-Year Update on Federal Prison and Sentencing Reform

By and large the first half of 2018 has been rather disappointing. Early in the year there were high hopes that the United States Sentencing Commission would approve Guidelines amendments that would substantially benefit first time, nonviolent offenders by providing a 1 or 2-point reduction. That unfortunately did not happen. All the USSC did was approve a “commentary” amendment advising that courts should utilize alternatives to incarceration for non-violent first-time offenders who are in Category A or B on the Sentencing Table, meaning those with an Adjusted Guideline Level under 12. As far as the Sentencing Commission is concerned, John Webster, NPSC’s Managing Director believes that the first half of 2018 was a true disappointment for federal inmates and defendants.

In terms of Federal legislation, thus far 2018 is also a disappointment. Although there are certain bills in Congress, such as the H.R.64 – Federal Prison Bureau Nonviolent Offender Relief Act of 2017 which permits non-violent defendants over age 45 to serve 50% of their time, this is just a bill—not a law. H.R. 64 has NO chance of ever passing we are sorry to say. We also get many calls and emails about the “65% law that just passed” or some variation of that statement. This is rather frustrating for our staff here as the so called “65% law” is nothing more than prison rumor. Apparently a viral prison rumor that we here at NPSC have been dealing with for over 6 years.

Although current political realities have all but eliminated the chances for the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act from being passed, the First Step Act has been passed in the House of Representatives on May 22, 2018. It has been introduced in the Senate, where, as of this writing, has been bogged down in bipartisan politics and many commentators doubt its ultimate passage.

The First Step Act focuses solely on several aspects of federal “prison reform” rather than any form of sentencing reform. Although, many Democratic Representatives are voicing their opposition to this bill, asserting that it does not include any sentencing reform measures. Although such is true, we here at NPSC feel that half a loaf is better than none at all. With a GOP controlled House, Senate and White House it is not expected that comprehensive sentencing reform is likely at least until after the 2018 mid-term elections. Indeed, President Trump announced that he does support the First Step Act and will sign it if it gets on his desk.

The First Step Act, if passed, would:

  1. authorize $50 million annually for five years to provide education and vocational training programs to federal inmates.
  2. allow more federal prisoners to take advantage of credits that would allow inmates to serve part of their sentence in home confinement or at a halfway house.
  3. provide a technical fix that would allow inmates to earn up to 54 days of “good time” credit a year, up from 47 days annually under current Bureau of Prisons’ interpretation of the law.
  4. amend 18 U.S.C. §3621 to require the Bureau of Prisons to initially place or transfer most inmates closer to their primary residence subject to programming needs, bed availability and security level.
  5. ease some of the requirements to obtain a “Compassionate Release” and, more importantly, would allow an inmate—rather than just the Bureau of Prisons—-to file the required motion before the court pursuant to 18 U.S..C §3582 to seek a Compassionate Release.

Thus far, 2018 has been uneventful for true federal prison and sentencing reform. As always, if the reader has any questions about this or about federal sentence reductions or federal sentence mitigation, please fell free to contact us at help@nationalprisonconsultants.com or at 615-696-6153