New rule makes thousands of federal inmates eligible for release

WASHINGTON — Thousands of federal inmates will become eligible for release this week under a rule released Thursday by the Justice Depar...


WASHINGTON — Thousands of federal inmates will become eligible for release this week under a rule released Thursday by the Justice Department that allows more people to participate in a program that allows prisoners to earn shorter prison sentences .

Under these guidelines, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has begun transferring eligible inmates to supervised release programs, residential rehabilitation centers or home confinement.

The rule, along with a department ruling last month that well-behaved inmates returned to house arrest during the pandemic would not have to return to prison, is a major step toward overhauling and shrinking the federal prison system, which some Democrats and Republicans see as costly and often unfair.

Guidelines published Thursday in the Federal Register affect how the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Prisons enforce the First Step Act, the sweeping bipartisan criminal justice legislation signed into law in 2018 under the Trump administration. The measure expands job training and other efforts to reduce recidivism, expands early release programs and changes sentencing laws.

The law gave the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Prisons leeway in interpreting certain aspects of its implementation, including whether credits for good conduct and vocational training accrued before the law was passed could be used to apply for early release. Under former Attorney General William P. Barr, the department had proposed a rule that would only count credits awarded and completed after Jan. 15, 2020.

Critics argued that the proposed rule did not accurately reflect the intent of the lawmakers who drafted the bill and that it kept thousands of people behind bars who should be immediately released.

Last May, Senators Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the panel, pressed the Justice Department and the Bureau of Prisons to revise the proposed rule.

The senators said the proposed rule deterred prisoners from participating in First Step Act programs and undermined the effectiveness of the law. They said it had restrictions that weren’t part of the law and unduly harsh penalties.

“While it’s easy to lose hard-earned credits, the rule makes it too difficult to restore credits,” they wrote.

In guidelines announced Thursday, the Justice Department said inmates could apply credits that had been earned as early as Dec. 21, 2018, when the First Step Act was signed into law, subject to the Bureau of Prisons determining eligibility. .

Justice Action Network, a bipartisan criminal justice reform group, said the new guidelines could result in the release of as many people as were released immediately after the First Step Act was passed, or more than 3 100. The stay-at-home order had already affected approximately 2,800 inmates. There are 157,596 federal inmates, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

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Newsrust - US Top News: New rule makes thousands of federal inmates eligible for release
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