14th Feb 2014
The Senate bill S. 1675, the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act of 2013, would make many small improvements in how inmates can earn time off their sentences. The Senate Judiciary Committee will be considering it soon, so we are taking this opportunity to give you a summary of it and its context.
UPDATE: Although S. 1675 was not enacted, it was reintroduced in 2015 as “The CORRECTIONS Act” in the Senate, and some similar ideas were introduced in the House (click the preceding links to read about them). Or, for other developments, see a list of all our posts on bills in Congress.
Because of the bill’s length, here are selected highlights:
- Recidivism reduction programs will be offered in prison.
- Research will be done to demonstrate the programs offered are effective.
- Inmates who complete such programs may get up to 60 days off their sentence for each year they are in such a program.
- Inmates who need drug or alcohol abuse treatment programs must start them in time to complete them before they leave prison.
- The “good time credit” is reworded so that inmates really get 54 days per year of good behavior off their sentence instead of only 47 days per year.
Congress may (and usually does) amend the bill, so this discussion only summarizes the bill in its current form.
This bill gives the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) the task of assessing every prisoner’s recidivism risk factors (except for prisoners with life sentences) and offering programs to prisoners that reduce their recidivism risk factors. These programs may be vocational training, educational programs, cognitive behavioral programs, drug or alcohol abuse recovery programs, etc. The Attorney General’s office is to develop procedures for (a) assessing prisoners’ recidivism risk factors and for (b) finding and evaluating programs to reduce those factors so that the Government can use programs that are demonstrably effective. (Partnering with a non-profit organization in order to use their program is fine as long as there is evidence that it works.) The bill sets the goals that the Attorney General’s office will have these procedures ready six months after the bill becomes law and that, six years after the bill becomes law, every federal prisoner will have been assessed (except for those with life sentences).
If a prisoner completes one of these recidivism reduction programs, then for every year they are in that program, they will get a maximum of 60 days off their sentence. (If they complete a recidivism reduction program that lasts less than a year, the sentence credit is prorated accordingly.) Note that this is a sentence credit, not a sentence reduction, and that it is subject to the BOP’s discretion; it does not happen automatically. The sentence credits a prisoner gets for participation in an recidivism reduction program or a substance abuse program are capped at 15% of their sentence.
This bill would also adjust how the sentence credit for good behavior is calculated. Title 18 of U.S. Code section 3624 is currently interpreted to mean that for every year a prisoner demonstrates “exemplary” behavior, they get a sentence credit of 47 days. If this bill passes, it would clarify the wording of that section with the result that a prisoner would get a sentence credit of 54 days for each year of exemplary behavior.
The bill would make several other tweaks to the Federal prison system to support programs for inmates:
Each defendant’s Presentence Investigation Report will contain not only their history of substance abuse and addiction (if any) but also a detailed plan drawn up by the probation officer that, using the BOP recidivism reduction programs, will (1) reduce the defendant’s drug or alcohol abuse, (2) reduce the defendant’s likelihood of recidivism (according to their particular recidivism risk factors), and (3) help the defendant re-enter society when their term is complete.
The bill would also require the BOP to make sure that any prisoners eligible for substance abuse treatment programs can start them so that they can finish them a year before they are due to get out of prison. The bill sets a goal of three years for the BOP to implement this. (Currently, not all eligible prisoners are actually given time to complete these programs.)
The Administrative Office of the Courts, along with the Attorney General’s office, is given the task of researching and evaluating how the justice system handles the re-entry of released prisoners into society. They are to identify best practices and then set up five-year demonstration projects in selected Federal judicial districts to implement these best practices. They are also to study places where there is a relatively high proportion of released prisoners to determine the impact on the communities, what resources those communities have, and how they can be helped.
As well as these studies, in order that Congress can learn whether its directives are being carried out and how effectively, the bill sets up several points at which the Attorney General’s office and the Bureau of Prisons will report back to Congress on what has been done. For instance, by two years after this bill becomes a law, the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services shall establish five-year recidivism reduction and recovery enhancement pilot programs in selected Federal judicial districts.
We will be keeping you up-to-date on the progress of this bill and others that deal with sentencing reform as they move through Congress.
by Chad Van Cleave