The Department of Justice announced three major developments Friday related to the implementation of the First Step Act of 2018 (FSA):
- Over 3,100 federal prison inmates will be released from the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) custody as a result of the increase in good conduct time under the Act. In addition, 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 1,691 sentence reductions.
- The prioritization of $75 million in existing resources to fully fund the FSA implementation from the 2019 budget. The Department will continue its work with Congress to ensure additional funding is appropriated for FY2020 and future years.
- The publication of the FSA Risk and Needs Assessment System (RNAS) that will help identify all federal prison inmates who may qualify for pre-release custody by participating in authorized recidivism reduction programming and/or productive activities.
“Our communities are safer when we do a better job of rehabilitating offenders in our custody and preparing them for a successful transition to life after incarceration,” Attorney General William P. Barr said in press release. “The Department is committed to and has been working towards full implementation of the First Step Act, which will help us effectively deploy resources to help reduce risk, recidivism, and crime.”
Implementation Progress, New and Expanded BOP Programs Under FSA
The Bureau of Prisons, as of June 2019, housed just over 180,200 federal inmates. The release of roughly 3,100 inmates totals 1.7% of the total inmate population. The fee to cover the average cost of incarceration for Federal inmates in Fiscal Year 2015 was $31,977.65 ($87.61 per day).
In preparation for the release, the BOP coordinated with US Probation Offices and created individualized release plans for every inmate to ensure a seamless transition.
The Department has taken active steps to implement the FSA:
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, 51 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, 201 inmates have qualified to be transitioned 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. About 16,000 BOP inmates are currently enrolled in drug treatment programs, including the well-regarded Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP).
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-one 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 31,700 BOP employees have already received the updated training.
Funding For FSA Implementation
Congress has authorized $75 million for each fiscal year from 2019 to 2023 for the Justice Department to implement the First Step Act. The Department has re-directed $75 million in existing funds for FSA implementation from the 2019 budget. The Department will continue its work with Congress to ensure additional funding is appropriated for FY2020 and future years.
Re-directed funds in FY2019 for FSA implementation activities will include:
- Increasing Vocational Training Opportunities: Expands automotive vocational training and programs by providing opportunities for inmates to maintain and repair BOP vehicles and obtain CDL licenses; also expands the existing National Roofing and Paving Program.
- Expanding Education Programs: Updates and expands access to the computer-based Inmate Education Network computer-based courseware.
- Providing Certifications for Vocational Training: Enhances Career Technical Education job readiness services by purchasing both the programs and the industry recognized credentials for occupational and vocational training, such as production technician and mechanic.
- Increasing Volunteers/Partnership Opportunities: Provides resources for institutions to complete required background checks for volunteers and partner organizations.
- Enhancing Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT): Increases expertise and further develops evidence-based protocols in addition to expanding the types of treatment available to inmates.
- Providing English as Second Language (ESL) Workbooks and Textbooks: Enhances English literacy by providing educational services to inmates for are not English- proficient and standardizes teaching materials agency-wide.
- Meeting Needs of the Female Inmate Population: Expands inmate access to existing gender-responsive programs developed specifically to female inmates’ needs.
- Performing Evaluations for Evidence-Based Programs: Facilitates program evaluations of evidence-based programs by external organizations.
- Developing a Needs Assessment System: Provides resources to support a consultative meeting with practitioners who have expertise in needs assessment systems.
The Risk and Needs Assessment Tool – PATTERN
The Attorney General’s publication of a risk and needs assessment system was a key requirement of the FSA, signed into law by President Trump on Dec. 21, 2018. The publication of the RNAS report makes the changes in the law to good conduct time effective.
The RNAS is among several robust measures the Department has taken to implement the FSA, which seeks to reduce risk and recidivism among the prison population and assist inmates’ successful reintegration into society. The new system will be used to assess all federal inmates for risk and identify criminogenic needs that can be addressed by evidence-based programs, such as drug treatment, job training, and education. The system was developed in consultation with the FSA-established Independent Review Committee (IRC), the BOP, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the National Institute of Corrections, and over two dozen stakeholders groups.
The new tool to be used by the BOP is called the Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Needs (PATTERN). PATTERN is designed to predict the likelihood of general and violent recidivism for all BOP inmates. As required by the FSA, PATTERN contains static risk factors (e.g. age and crime of conviction) as well as dynamic items (i.e. participation or lack of participation in programs like education or drug treatment) that are associated with either an increase or a reduction in risk of recidivism. The PATTERN assessment tool provides predictive models, or scales, developed and validated for males and females separately.
The PATTERN assessment, modeled specifically for the federal prison population, achieves a higher level of predictability and surpasses what is commonly found for risk assessment tools for correctional populations in the U.S.