Federal prisoners who were expecting release for good behavior under the First Step Act must keep waiting because of an error in the statute, Reuters reports. Potentially thousands of inmates could be affected by the error in the law signed Dec. 21 by President Trump. The law requires the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to recalculate good behavior credits, a step expected to reduce some inmates’ sentences by as many as 54 days per year. Previously, inmates could only earn up to 47 days per year toward early release for good behavior.
Advocates expected the bill’s enactment meant that several thousand inmates would get their freedom in time for the 2018 holiday season. A drafting error prevented the Justice Department from immediately applying the new method of calculating good-behavior credits. “It’s a frustrating mistake,” said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). Activists said the law confused good-behavior credits, which reduce a sentence, with earned-time credits, which do not. Earned-time credits allow certain inmates to qualify for early transfer to halfway houses. The law mistakenly said that new rules on good-behavior credits could not kick in until BOP finishes a risk-assessment process for deciding which inmates can get earned-time credits. Last week, a federal judge in Chicago denied a prisoner’s request to be released earlier for good behavior, citing the law. “This court is not unsympathetic to the apparent inequity of petitioner’s situation,” wrote U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman. “This court, however, is obligated to apply the law as it is written.” Advocates said the White House is seeking a way to fix the mistake.