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Last week, the BOP’s new director, Colette Peters, issued new guidance regarding how the BOP calculates and administers earned time credits under the First Step Act, which inmates can accumulate and use to reduce their sentences by enrolling in rehabilitative programing offered by the BOP. Under Director Peters’ new guidance, inmates will be able to see how many earned time credits in total they will be able to earn while serving their sentence. As a result, they will have an estimated release date based on their potential earned time credits. Inmates will also be able to continue accumulating credits while in protective custody, administrative detention, or quarantine. Additionally, the 18-month cut-off for earning credits has been eliminated.
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The BOP has recently been criticized for interpreting the First Step Act narrowly and denying earned time credits to many inmates who sought to have their sentences reduced.
In particular, the BOP had been using an “interim calculation policy” since January 2022 that allowed eligible inmates to accumulate time credits up to 365 days (1 year) “or 18 months from their release date, whichever happens first.” In other words, inmates serving shorter sentences were unable to maximize the amount of time their sentences could be reduced. A district judge in the Southern District of New York recently struck down this rule, holding that this 18-month cut-off date was not consistent with or authorized by the Final Rule published in the Federal Register.
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Boasting a full quorum for the first time in years, the U.S. Sentencing Commission recently met and voted on its most pressing priorities for 2022. At the top of the list is implementing the First Step Act, specifically the guidelines governing motions for sentence reductions under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A), also known as “compassionate release.” The deadline to submit guidelines amendments to Congress is May 1, 2023. The Commission has published its other reform priorities, which include amendments to the drug trafficking guidelines (including the safety valve), the firearm offense guidelines, the career offender guidelines, the criminal history guidelines, whether guidelines commentary can be binding, and whether acquitted conduct can be considered in calculating a defendant’s guidelines or imposing a sentence.