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 Early Release for Federal Prisoners, Getting Out Early – Prison Professors 

Picture of Michael Santos

Michael Santos

Need Answers to Your Questions?

By Jennifer Myers, Associate Prison Professor

Jennifer Meyers

The Truth About Early Release For Federal Prisoners

The minute I was sentenced to 3-years in federal prison, I became obsessed with researching what I could possibly do to get out sooner! In federal prison there is no parole. Prisoners serve 85% of the time (if your sentence is at least 12 months and 1 day, and you receive all of your good time credit). What I found out was, the only way to get out sooner is to be accepted into the RDAP program. RDAP is the 500-hour Residential Drug Abuse Program. The Bureau of Prisons offers RDAP at certain federal prison camps. Those who complete the program and graduate successfully may receive up to 12 months off of their sentence.

So, how the heck do you get into RDAP?

Considering this is the only way to get up to a year off of your sentence (unless you’re granted a reduction by the courts; one which is called a Rule 35), everyone wants into the RDAP program! It begins to feel like a secret club, or sorority, that everyone wants in, but few get selected. A disease that tends to happen is that a lot of Federal Prison Consultants proclaim that they can guarantee you’ll get into the RDAP program. The minute someone says this, I’d run the other way.

No one can guarantee your entrance!

Yes, there are some things you can do to try and prepare so that you’ll have a greater chance at getting in. And, it does help to have someone such as myself who’s successfully graduated from RDAP to guide you through the steps

But, once you surrender to prison—you’re on your own!

Waiting for RDAP

The day after I surrendered to a federal prison camp, I did as I was instructed to do by the federal prison consultant I’d worked with, and turned in a cop-out form (a form used to communicate with staff in prison), to request my first RDAP interview.

…and, I waited….and, waited…and, waited.

The best idiom which fits prison so perfectly is, “hurry up and wait”!

Every single one of the 1,600 women on the compound, where I was incarcerated, wanted into the RDAP program—and of course, why wouldn’t they? It was almost the only way to come home sooner, to be back with your family and the people you love!

This set up a feeling of competition, and desperation. All I knew was, I had to get in, and I was going to do the best job possible to ensure I did! In actuality, there really wasn’t much I could do. Before my surrender, I’d spent time documenting my drug and alcohol history, and was told by the federal prison consultant I’d hired, ‘I should be just fine’—meaning, I should get in.

The funny thing was, after my first RDAP interview—and after I’d handed in my eleven written pages, documenting my alcohol and drug use, since before my crime, I returned to my second interview only to be told I may not make it in. Boy, was I crushed! I stared at the counselor, mortified. What had happened? My federal prison consultant told me I should get in!

Guidelines for RDAP:

Again, the RDAP counselors follow the guidelines, and it’s a hard—and very clear line, what factors constitute an alcoholic, or addict. Of course, if you’re someone who’s committed your crime because you were addicted to drugs—and that’s a large number of people indicted in the federal system, then, your chances are quite high you will get into the RDAP program. It’s just a matter of when. And, that’s another problem! The RDAP programs in federal prison camps have a long waiting list. When you get into the program determines how much time, out of the 12 months, you’ll really get off.

Then, there’s the question; did you get sober after your crime, and have you been free of drugs and alcohol ‘out on the streets’ a year before your surrendered to prison? While I was locked up, and waiting to find out if I’d been accepted into RDAP, these questions haunted us, as the rumors flew as to what exactly got you into the program.

Again, being honest about your drug and alcohol history— including, after your arrest and the year preceding your incarceration, or, surrender to prison (which is taken seriously into consideration), is all that you can do! Of course, any professional documentation you have of your addiction issues can be helpful, too—but, again, there’s no guarantee!

Every single inmate on the compound will want into RDAP—and only so many inmates get in, once every three, or so, months. And, the hard part is..the wait! One of my best friend during my incarceration, waited nine months, and she still hadn’t got in, so she agreed to get on a bus to be transported to another prison—a higher security prison that had open slots in their RDAP program. I didn’t want her to go, but she took a chance because she wanted to make sure she got as much time as possible off of her sentence.

I don’t blame her!

Another issue: You may NOT get your full 12 months off, even if you do graduate! Why is this? Because the wait to get into the RDAP program on many compounds, is very long. If someone comes in who has a shorter sentence—and earlier release date than you, you’re going to get kicked out of the next program, and bumped down the list.

Yes, it’s not fair, but it’s prison!

The best thing you can do is to not worry about what’s not in your control. If you are supposed to get into the RDAP program, you will.

And why…because you need it!

Of course, journaling about your addiction history—and getting support from other professionals in the addiction field (if this is what you need), before your surrender to prison, can be helpful, too. Or, working with a consultant who’s graduated from the RDAP program.

The good news is—if you do get into the RDAP program, like I DID, it’s a great experience. I loved being in RDAP. The program gave me the opportunity to work on myself while I was inside prison, to look at the choices I’d made, and to focus on what I wanted to create in my life moving forward, when I was released.

The best thing you can do if you want into RDAP, is to make it your first priority when you surrender to prison, to turn in your cop-out with your request for your first RDAP interview.

Then, patiently wait…and begin to focus on your transformation.

So, when you do get out you can create the life you really want to live!

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