The laws passed by Congress are sometimes so complex or difficult to read that they seem to be removed from the reality of our day-to-day lives. There are times, however, when a law is rooted in common sense.
When it comes to reversing the problems that resulted from mass incarceration in America, it simply makes sense to begin by releasing those in the prison population who present the lowest risk to the community. Elderly inmates and inmates who are ill generally fit the description of individuals who present a very low risk to the community. Fortunately, those who crafted the First Step Act, passed at the end of last year, recognized that common-sense approach.
With an eye towards maximizing the use of home confinement as a way in which to reduce the federal prison population, the First Step Act mandates the BOP to move swiftly to implement the Elderly Offender Pilot Program.
Originally included in a law called the Second Chance Act, the Elderly Offender Pilot Program was reauthorized and modified by the First Step Act. In fact, the First Step Act states that “The Bureau of Prisons shall, to the extent practicable, place prisoners with lower risk levels and lower needs on home confinement for the maximum amount of time permitted” by law.
This blog will go through some of the most frequently asked questions about the Elderly Offender Pilot Program.
What is the scope of the Elderly Offender Pilot Program?
The pilot program is intended to determine how effective it is to remove eligible elderly and terminally ill inmates from federal prisons and place them in home detention until the end of their prison terms. The pilot program is scheduled to be conducted for four years, from 2019 through 2023.
How can someone be a part of the Elderly Offender Pilot Program?
A person can participate in the pilot program through a written request. That written request can come from a staff member of the BOP, from an eligible elderly inmate, or from an eligible terminally ill inmate.
Who is eligible for the Program?
An eligible elderly offender is a federal inmate who:
- Is 60 years old or older;
- Is not serving a life sentence;
- Has not been convicted of any federal or state crime of violence or sex offense;
- Hasn't been determined by the Bureau of Prisons to have a history of violence or sex offenses;
- Has not escaped, or attempted to escape from a federal prison;
- Will, if released, result in a substantial net reduction of costs to the federal government; and
- As you may expect, a violation by an ability to participate old inmate or terminally ill inmate of the terms of home detention, such as doing/performing another crime, will result in the immediate removal of that person from home detention.
An eligible terminally ill offender is a federal inmate who:
- Is serving a sentence for a crime that does not include a crime of violence or a sex offense;
- Satisfies the criteria for “eligible elderly offenders” in paragraphs 3 through 7 above; and
- Has been determined by a doctor to be in need of nursing home care or diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Isn’t there a six-month limit on the amount of time someone can spend in home confinement?
There's a rule that limits home confinement to 10% of the term of imprisonment, or 6 months, whichever is shorter. However, for purposes of the pilot program, that requirement can be waived. Accordingly, the waiver of that requirement will be employed to release as many eligible elderly and terminally ill inmates as possible.
What happens if someone violates the terms of home confinement?
As you may expect, a violation by an eligible elderly inmate or terminally ill inmate of the terms of home detention, such as committing another crime, will result in the immediate removal of that person from home detention. The person then may be placed in any federal facility as determined by the Bureau of Prisons.
The release into home confinement of certain elderly and terminally ill inmates who meet certain criteria is a smart, common-sense, efficient way to reduce the federal prison population. The First Step Act, by reauthorizing the Elderly Offender Pilot Program, affirms the validity of that approach.