Blog Article 

 Senate Letter on FSA 

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Michael Santos

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Senators Dick Durbin and Charles Grassley object to the BOP’s failure to fully implement provisions of the First Step Act. They co-authored a letter to the Attorney General, requesting answers by December 7, 2022.

Dear Community Members,

Later, I’ll write an update on the amazing visit I had at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute. I am immensely grateful to the people who welcomed me into the institution, and to the people who listed to our message. In the months to come, I’m looking forward to continue our advocacy efforts for all people in federal prison.

While I was in the prison, two influential senators, Richard Durbin, and Charles Grassley, wrote a stern letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland. The letter addressed “failures by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to adequately implement the Earned Time Credit provisions of the First Step Act.” We publish the four-page letter as a PDF on our Prison Professors website.

To summarize the letter, the senators objected to the way the BOP has carried out the First Step Act. Despite the passing of four years, the BOP has yet to develop a coherent policy that fully implements the Earned Time Credit provisions of the act. People are serving sentences far longer than they should because the BOP needs a policy that authorizes people to get the full benefit from courses they completed.

Specifically, the two US Senators criticized the BOP on several matters, including the BOP’s slow-walking the development of a program statement on the FSA needs assessment. Then, the agency penalized people who did not complete the needs assessment. They objected to the 18-month rule, which the FSA does not support. It urged the BOP to allow people in halfway houses to earn ETC credits, as the First Step Act intended.

Finally, the Senators asked the Department of Justice to respond to the following five questions before December 7, 2022:

  1. How many people in BOP were awarded ETCs before the auto-calculation system went live? Of that number, how many people lost ETCs after the auto calculation system went live?
  2. How will BOP address ETCs for individuals who have lost credits or been denied credits for failure to complete needs assessment surveys?
  3. In light of the October 14 memo, how is BOP ensuring that people within the two-month window have had their original award orf credits restored? Is there any plan to expedite review of challenges to ETC calculations that implicate the October 14 memo?
  4. Who in BOP is responsible for determining if a person is or is not eligible to earn time credits. Are staff who are responsible for making eligibility determinations given special training on the task?
  5. Please verify whether BOP is making adequate use of the warden exception.

This letter will likely prompt action with the BOP. We’re thankful to the advocacy groups that brought this matter to the attention of the highest levels of government. Although we can expect more resistance from the agency to implement all provisions of the First Step Act fully, we’re hopeful that this letter will result in positive changes soon.

Our team will continue doing our part to advocate for all justice-impacted people, and we’re grateful to others who help move the agency along in ways that fully implement the First Step Act. Once it’s fully implemented, we hope to see an expansion of eligibility requirements so that all people in federal prison can work toward earning time credit.

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