The First Step Act Bill Summary Explained : A Comprehensive Analysis

The First Step Act 2018 Bill Summary: On December 21, 2018, the President signed into law The First Step Act 2018, a bipartisan effort to reform the federal criminal justice system. The Law Office of Brandon Sample has assembled this detailed analysis of the First Step Act 2018 to help the public understand the ins and outs of the bill. If you are looking for a quick answer to your questions about the First Step Act, we suggest you revisit our prior articles.

We want to be crystal clear about our position: the First Step Act 2018 is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. There will be thousands of inmates who are largely ineligible to benefit from many of the reforms contained in this law. But the legislation is, by its name, a FIRST STEP.

Since The First Step Act 2018 is broken out into six separate titles, we will break down the bill using that same organization. We are going to change it up and start from the end and work our way back towards Title I of the bill. If you would like to print a copy of this article for your loved one in prison, you may do so at this link: Law Office of Brandon Sample First Step Analysis.

Title VI- Miscellaneous Criminal Justice – The First Step Act

First Step Act

First Step Act

Section 601. Placement of prisoners close to families.

Under current law, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) essentially has unlimited discretion to decide which prison to send inmates to for service of their sentence. For instance, criminal defendants sentenced in Miami, Florida are often routinely sent to serve lengthy sentences as far away as California.

The First Step Act works to address family separation caused by imprisonment. Under the Section 601 of the bill, the BOP will now be required to “place the prisoner in a facility as close as practicable to the prisoner’s primary residence,” and to the extent possible within 500 driving miles of the inmate’s home.

Further, inmates already in BOP prisons will be given the opportunity to decide if they want to stay at their current facility or transfer to another prison closer to the inmate’s home. This is true even if the inmate is already within 500 driving miles of their primary residence.

However, the First Step Act still provides some caveats to the “place inmates no further than 500 miles from home” rule. Placement of an inmate will still be subject to that inmate’s “security designation,” medical needs, bed availability and other security concerns of the BOP.

“Security designation,” is just a different way of saying whether an inmate is eligible to go to a medium security, low security, or high security prison based on factors evaluated by the BOP (more on that below).

These are all separate reasons the BOP can still rely on to place an inmate further than 500 driving miles from the inmate’s primary residence. We anticipate that BOP will try to rely on the “other security concerns” catch-all in most cases when denying requests to transfer closer to home.

One glaring weakness in the First Step act 2018 is that although it says BOP “shall” send inmates as close as practicable to their home, it also specifically provides that no court can review BOP’s placement decision. We believe this is a significant potential problem since inmates will have no way to challenge BOP’s decisions except through the BOP’s administrative remedy program.

At rock bottom, however, The First Step act 2018 will allow thousands of families to be within traveling distance of their loved ones who are in prison. On this point, The First Step act 2018 is a good initial change in the right direction.

Section 602. Home Confinement For Low-Risk Prisoners.

  • This part of the First Step Act changes current law to make clear that Congress intends for low-risk inmates to spend as much time as possible on home confinement. The First Step Act directs BOP to place these lower risk prisoners on home confinement during the end of their sentence “for the maximum amount of time” permitted by law.
  • Under existing law, inmates can spend up to 10% of their sentence or 6 months (whichever amount of time is less) on home confinement. So, the First Step act 2018 instructs BOP to make sure “to the extent practicable” that all lower risk inmates spend as much as 6 months at the end of their sentence in their own home.
  • The limitation on serving ten percent of the sentence, or six months, whichever is less, on home confinement DOES NOT apply to the extended prerelease custody period that may be earned through time credits under the bill.(See : First Step act pdf )

Section 603. Elderly Offender Home Detention And Compassionate Release Reform

Section 603 revives and expands the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program and makes critical changes to how compassionate release requests are considered.

A.  The Prior Version Of The Elderly Offender Home Detention Pilot Program

When Congress passed the Second Chance Act of 2007, it authorized an elderly home detention pilot program. 34 U.S.C. 60541(g). The pilot program was only available in a handful of BOP facilities, limited to 2009 and 2010, and eligibility was defined as applying to anyone:

(i) Who is not less than 65 years of age;

(ii) Who is serving a term of imprisonment that is not life imprisonment based on conviction for an offense or offenses that do not include any crime of violence (as defined in section 16 of title 18), sex offense (as defined in section 20911(5) of this title), offense described in section 2332b(g)(5)(B) of title 18, or offense under chapter 37 of title 18, and has served the greater of 10 years or 75 percent of the term of imprisonment to which the offender was sentenced;

(iii) Who has not been convicted in the past of any Federal or State crime of violence, sex offense, or other offense described in clause (ii);

(iv) Who has not been determined by the Bureau of Prisons, on the basis of information the Bureau uses to make custody classifications, and in the sole discretion of the Bureau, to have a history of violence, or of engaging in conduct constituting a sex offense or other offense described in clause (ii);

(v) Who has not escaped, or attempted to escape, from a Bureau of Prisons institution;

(vi) With respect to whom the Bureau of Prisons has determined that release to home detention under this section will result in a substantial net reduction of costs to the Federal Government; and

(vii) Who has been determined by the Bureau of Prisons to be at no substantial risk of engaging in criminal conduct or of endangering any person or the public if released to home detention.
(See : First Step act pdf )

B. The First Step Act Expands The Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program

The First Step Act reauthorizes the Elderly Home Detention program for fiscal years 2019-2023, and expands eligibility for the program. Under the expanded eligibility criteria:

(1) The program is now available at all BOP facilities;

(2) The age for qualification is reduced from 65 years to 60 years of age; and only

(3) 2/3 of the sentence must be served to be eligible (2/3 is equal to 66.6 percent).

Importantly, Section 504(b)(1)(B) of the First Step Act ELIMINATES the prior requirement that prisoners have served 10 years or 75 percent of their sentence, whichever is greater.

Additionally, the First Step Act allows eligible terminally ill offenders to also be placed on home confinement for the duration of their sentences. An eligible terminally ill offender is anyone who:

(i) is serving a term of imprisonment based on conviction for an offense or offenses that do not include any crime of violence (as defined in section 16(a) of title 18, United States Code), sex offense (as defined in section 111(5) of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (34 U.S.C. 20911(5))), offense described in section 2332b(g)(5)(B) of title 18, United States Code, or offense under chapter 37 of title 18, United States Code; ‘‘(ii) satisfies the criteria specified in clauses (iii) through (vii) of subparagraph (A); and ‘‘(iii) has been determined by a medical doctor approved by the Bureau of Prisons to be—

‘‘(I) in need of care at a nursing home, intermediate care facility, or assisted living facility, as those terms are defined in section 232 of the National Housing Act (12 U.S.C. 1715w); or ‘‘(II) diagnosed with a terminal illness.’’
(See : First Step act pdf )

C. The First Step Act Allows Prisoners To Petition Courts For Compassionate Release

  • Currently, compassionate release is difficult to understand and even more difficult to obtain. Existing law only allows for compassionate release if the BOP files a motion with an inmate’s sentencing court seeking a sentence reduction under certain limited circumstances.
  • The two biggest limitations to compassionate release prior to the First Step Act were these: 1) only the BOP could bring a motion seeking compassionate release; and 2) if BOP did not want to bring a motion for compassionate release even if you met their criteria there was nothing an inmate could do to have their request reviewed by a court.
  • The result has been that many eligible inmates never received a sentence reduction despite clearly being eligible for compassionate release. Here is how the First Step Act changes the way compassionate release requests are handled.

1)      Incarcerated Individuals Can Now Bring Their Own Compassionate Release Motion

 In a massive change, the FIRST STEP Act now provides that a motion for compassionate release can be brought by either the inmate or the BOP with the sentencing court. This means that inmates will no longer have to simply accept denial of a compassionate release request by the BOP as the last word.

But before an inmate can request compassionate release from a judge, the prisoner must submit an administrative request to the BOP. If the Warden fails to act within 30 days of the prisoner’s request, the inmate can proceed to court immediately. Alternatively, the prisoner can move for compassionate release with the court 30 days after the prisoner’s grievances have been exhausted.

The First Step Act does not change the statutory standard for receiving compassionate release. Specifically, for compassionate release to be granted, a prisoner must have:

(i) extraordinary and compelling reasons warrant such a reduction; or

(ii) the defendant is at least 70 years of age, has served at least 30 years in prison, pursuant to a sentence imposed under section 3559(c), for the offense or offenses for which the defendant is currently imprisoned, and a determination has been made by the Director of the Bureau of Prisons that the defendant is not a danger to the safety of any other person or the community, as provided under section 3142(g);

and that such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission

18 U.S.C. 3582(C)(1)(A)(i)-(ii). The “applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission” refers to U.S.S.G. 1B1.13, a provision of the Sentencing Guidelines. In light of the First Step Act, we expect the Commission to amend 1B1.13 to provide district courts with further clarity about what constitutes “extraordinary and compelling reasons.”
(Refer : First Step act pdf )

 2)      Mandatory Notification to Family Members After Diagnosis Of Terminal Illness

  •  The First Step Act contains a number of provisions which also require BOP to inform an inmate’s attorney, family, and partner after an inmate receives a terminal illness diagnosis. The phrase “terminal illness” is defined by the First Step Act as a “disease or condition with an end-of-life trajectory.”
  • Within 72 hours of an inmate being diagnosed with a terminal illness, the BOP must inform the “defendant’s attorney, partner, and family members” about the inmate’s condition. This is a massive change from current practice where family members are typically left in the dark.
  • As part of this 72-hour notification, BOP is also required to tell the attorney and family members that they may prepare and submit a compassionate release request on the prisoner’s behalf. This means that the prisoner’s attorney or family members can submit the mandatory initial request to a warden for compassionate release rather than forcing the very sick inmate to write his or her own request. (See : First Step act pdf )

3) Mandatory 7-day In-Person Visit

Within 7 days of a person being diagnosed with a terminal illness, the FIRST STEP Act requires BOP to provide the inmate with the opportunity to visit with their family members in-person. There is no limiting language on this requirement about “security concerns” or “to the extent practicable.”

4) BOP Employees MUST assist Terminally Ill Inmates in Requesting a Sentence Reduction

The First Step Act also requires BOP employees to assist inmates in the “preparation, drafting, and submission of” a request for compassionate release if the family members or attorney asks for assistance.

5) BOP has 14 days to process a Compassionate Release Request

  • Within 14 days of receiving a compassionate release request from a terminally ill inmate (or their attorney, or their family) the BOP is required to process the request. This is an important provision of the First Step Act because typically the BOP is not required to do anything on a schedule set by Congress.
  • In practice if BOP has 14 days to process compassionate release requests and they wait until the 14th day to process them (which they probably will) they will only have 16 days to grant or deny that request before an inmate can seek judicial review. Remember, if 30 days passes without action on the request under the FIRST STEP Act a defendant can file his or her own motion with the Court seeking compassionate release.

6) BOP Must Provide Education on Compassionate Release Law

The First Step Act requires BOP to visibly post information and provide information on request to inmates about the procedures for seeking compassionate release. Under the FIRST STEP Act the BOP would not be allowed to use a lack of information about compassionate release to stonewall inmates.

7) Annual Report to Congress Required

The First Step Act also requires the BOP to make annual reports to Congress about compassionate release requests and how they are working in practice.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The Law Office of Brandon Sample assists federal prisoners across the United States with making requests for compassionate release. Because this is an important part of our practice, we have dedicated a new, entire website to the issue of compassionate release. That website is We encourage you and/or your family members to visit this website for important information about compassionate release. If you would like to hire our office to assist you with a compassionate release request, please contact us at 802-444-HELP (4357).

Section 604. BOP Required to Help Inmates Obtain ID’s Prior to Release

  • One of the most commonly overlooked portions of the FIRST STEP Act is the new requirement listed under the innocuous title “Identification for Returning Citizens.” Anyone who has ever worked with citizens as they try to re-enter society after a prison sentence knows that a lack of proper identification such as driver’s license or birth certificate can pose a huge obstacle.
  • The FIRST STEP ACT requires BOP to assist inmates in obtaining identification including social security cards, driver’s licenses, and a birth certificate before inmates leave prison or the halfway house.
    (Refer : First Step act pdf )

Section 605. Expanding Inmate Employment Through Federal Prisons Industries.

  • The First Step Act also makes changes to the way Federal Prison Industries or “UNICOR” is allowed to operate and who they can sell products to. In addition, inmates working in UNICOR will be required to put 15 percent of all monies earned in UNICOR into a release fund. The funds may then be used by the prisoner “to assist the inmate with costs associated with release from prison.” (Refer : First Step act Text)

Section 606. Required De-Escalation Training.

  • Within 1 year of the FIRST STEP ACT becoming law, the BOP is required to incorporate certain de-escalation training into its employee training. The idea is that BOP should be required to teach their officers to de-escalate encounters with inmates and appropriately respond to incidents involving people with mental illness. (Refer : First Step act Text)

Section 607. Evidence Based Treatment for Opiod and Heroin Abuse.

  • Within 90 days of the First Step Act becomes law, the BOP is required to submit a report to Congress on the availability of evidence-based programs in BOP for treating heroin and opioid abuse. What the FIRST STEP Act importantly includes here are a number of provisions that favor “medication-assisted” treatment for these terrible addictions.
  • BOP has traditionally either outright refused or declined to provide medication-assisted treatment for drug abuse despite the large amount of evidence showing these are the most successful treatment regimes. Methadone and similar medications have been shown to significantly reduce long-term opioid abuse in ways not achieved by most other treatment programs.
  • The First Step Act would also require a submission of a similar report on the availability of evidence-based treatments to people on supervised release within 120 days. Both reports are required to include description of plans to expand access to these programs, which is a good thing.
    (Refer : First Step act Text)

Section 608. Pilot Programs.

  • BOP is required to establish two different types of pilot programs for 5 years in at least 20 facilities and report on them to Congress. The first type of program is a mentorship program which connects volunteers from community organizations and inmates. The second is a program to provide inmates with skills to provide training to animals seized by law enforcement or otherwise rescued.
    (See : First Step act Text)

Section 609. Ensuring Supervision of Released Sexually Dangerous Persons.

  • This is simply a small textual change to make clear that Probation officers also must provide additional information to the court about people on supervised release for sex offenses but under civil commitment orders. This is not much of a change to existing law.

Section 610. Data Collection.

One of the biggest challenges to passing meaningful sentencing and criminal justice reform is a lack of good information about how BOP operates and the people who are locked away in its prisons. The FIRST STEP Act has a lot of new requirements on the types of information that BOP has to provide to the National Prisoner Statistics Program.

There are 26 different types of new information that BOP will be required to provide each year, so we won’t go through each of them. But here are the highlights:

  • Number of veterans incarcerated
  • Number of prisoners placed in solitary confinement each year
  • Number of pregnant female prisoners and certain other information about births
  • Number of prisoners who volunteered for substance abuse programs
  • Number of prisoners who receive medication-assisted treatment for substance abuse
  • Number of prisoners who are a parent or guardian of a minor child
  • Number of prisoners who are single, married, or otherwise in committed relationships
  • Number of prisoners without GED or high school diploma before prison
  • Number of prisoners who received GED each year
  • Vacancy rate for BOP medical and healthcare staff positions
  • For each BOP facility, the total number of violations that resulted in reductions in rewards, incentives, or time credits, the number of such violations for each category of violation type, and a demographic breakdown of prisoners who received such violations

Section 611. Healthcare Products.

The FIRST STEP Act requires the BOP to provide female inmates with tampons or sanitary napkins for free instead of forcing women to buy these from the commissary.

Section 612. Adult and Juvenile Collaboration Programs.

This provision of the First Step Act requires the Attorney General to use more of their funding towards giving assistance to state and local programs. It also requires the A.G. to use a minimum of 8% of funds appropriated towards mental illness offender programs at the state level.

Section 613. Juvenile Solitary Confinement.

This provision restricts the use of juvenile solitary confinement.


Section five of the First Step Act is largely devoted to providing grant monies for Second Chance Act programs at the state level. There are few technical changes to the law discussed in this portion of the bill, but those changes are discussed elsewhere in our comprehensive analysis.


Section 401. Reduce and Restrict Enhanced Sentencing for Prior Drug Felonies.

The FIRST STEP Act makes very significant changes to drug sentencing laws and mandatory minimums for repeat offenders in general. Importantly, these changes in applicable mandatory minimums are going to apply to anyone who has not yet been sentenced for their crimes.

The changes are not yet retroactive, which is a problem. We are hopeful that these changes will be made retroactive in future legislation to give current inmates the justice they deserve.  Let’s walk through some of these significant changes:

  • The term “serious drug felony” is added to the definitions section of the Controlled Substances Act in 21 U.S.C. 802. A “serious drug felony” includes any conviction for a qualifying “serious drug offense” crime listed in 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)
  1. Resulted in 12 months or more of prison for this particular defendant; and
  2. The defendant was released from prison within 15 years of the current offense.
  • The term “serious violent felony” is added to the Controlled Substances definitions also. A “serious violent felony” is defined as a prior conviction for:
  1. Any offense described in 18 U.S.C. 3559(c)(2)(F) [listing specific qualifying crimes, and containing an elements and residual clause] that resulted in 12 months or more of prison for this particular defendant; and
  2. Any offense under 18 U.S.C. 113 [crimes within maritime and territorial jurisdiction of U.S.] which resulted in a 12 month or longer sentence for this defendant.

Before we move on, there are a few very important changes to existing law in these definitions. First, both definitions require that for any prior conviction to be used, the particular defendant must have received a sentence of more than 12 months imprisonment. This is a change from current law which applies to all prior convictions where a sentence of 12 months or more could have been imposed for the offense.

Second, the prior “serious drug felony” definition incorporates a time limitation for penalty enhancements. This is extremely important since it will no longer allow massively higher mandatory minimums for offenses where the defendant was released from prison more than 15 years prior to his or her current offense.

  • Changing 841(b)(1)(A)(vii) mandatory minimums for offenders with one prior qualifying “serious drug felony” or “serious violent felony.” The current mandatory minimum is 20 years, but the FIRST STEP Act reduces the minimum to 15 years.
  • Making a similar change to mandatory minimums for offenders with two or more prior convictions. Current mandatory minimum is life imprisonment, but the FIRST STEP Act reduces the minimum to 25 years.

These two changes in the criminal justice reform bill end the so-called “three strikes” law that has forced mandatory lifetime sentences on thousands of inmates in the last 30 years. There would no longer be mandatory minimum life sentences for these crimes; instead, a floor of 25 years would be imposed for any sentence. Additionally, repeat offenders with only one prior qualifying conviction would be facing mandatory minimums of 15 years instead of 20 under this law.

One other negative about this change in law is that 21 U.S.C. 851 enhancements will now no longer be limited to drug priors. The enhanced penalties under 851, going forward, will also apply to priors for serious violent felonies as defined by 21 U.S.C. 802(58) per the First Step Act. And since there is no 15 years from release language for serious violent felonies, very old “violent” felonies can now be used to impose higher mandatory minimum sentences that otherwise were not previously available for federal drug convictions. ( Look at First Step act Text for more info)

Section 402. Broadening of Existing Safety Valve.

18 U.S.C. 3553 is commonly referred to as the “safety valve” because it allows a court to avoid otherwise applicable mandatory minimums for certain non-violent drug offenders with no prior criminal history who meet other conditions. This sounds fantastic on paper, but in reality, it applies to very few people and only to a small set of criminal offenses.

The biggest issue with the safety valve has always been that it is only available to defendants with no more than 1 criminal history point under the Sentencing Guidelines. The FIRST STEP Act addresses this problem.

The First Step Act changes the “safety valve” to make relief available to people with:

  1. no more than 4 total criminal history points [without counting prior 1-point convictions for sentences less than 60 days long including fines only, probation, and deferred sentences]
  2. no prior 3-point sentences [(sentences served over 1-year +1 month)]
  3. no prior 2-point “violent” offense [“crime of violence” sentence more than 60 days long but less than 1-year+1 month]

These specific changes allow courts to apply safety valve relief to a wide range of offenders who were previously ineligible because they had more than 1 criminal history point. How criminal history points are calculated is set out by the Sentencing Guidelines and is beyond this primer.

The expansion of the “safety-valve” is an important change, but it only applies going forward and cannot help out people already serving their time.

Section 403. Clarification of Section 924(c).

The First Step Act resolves an existing ambiguity in 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(c) about when to apply enhanced penalties for using a firearm during certain crimes based on a defendant’s prior convictions.

The FIRST STEP Act makes clear that the enhanced mandatory minimums for using a firearm during certain crimes only applies when the qualifying prior conviction was already final at the time of the new offense.

In the past, the Government had previously sought to apply 924(c) to offenders convicted of multiple counts on the same day, but with no prior convictions under this section, to obtain the higher mandatory minimum penalties on each count of conviction. This change would unfortunately not apply retroactively to the over 700 inmates with these unjust sentences already.

Section 404. Application of Fair Sentencing Act.

In 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act was enacted by Congress under President Obama. That law changed the disparity between how crack-cocaine offenses and powder-cocaine offenses were punished since the difference overwhelmingly punished people of color. Unfortunately, the Fair Sentencing Act initially only applied going forward.

The FIRST STEP Act will now make the change retroactive and provide justice to many long-time incarcerated offenders.

Offenders who are currently incarcerated in BOP and whose sentencing range would be lower under the current version of the applicable drug-quantity Sentencing Guidelines for crack-cocaine prior to 2010 will be allowed to file a motion to reduce their sentence.

The new law would allow a defendant to file a motion seeking to reduce their sentence as if the revised guidelines had been in effect on the day they were originally sentenced. A defendant will only get one opportunity to file a motion under this change and the court is not required to impose the change.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, nearly 3,000 inmates could be affected by this change in the law.

Important Note: The Law Office of Brandon Sample is available to assist you with your motion for retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act. However, our office will not accept representation in a large number of these cases in order to ensure that we provide excellent, individualized assistance to each person that we represent. Receiving relief pursuant to this change in the law is DISCRETIONARY. It is absolutely imperative that you put forward a compelling motion for relief. If you would like to discuss hiring our office to assist you, please call 802-444-HELP (4357).If you have any questions related to First step act Bill you can schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys.

Section 405. Reinvestment of Savings in Evidence-Based Recidivism Reduction Programs.

This provision of the First Step Act simply says that any cost savings achieved as a result of the legislation should be reinvested into recidivism reduction programs in BOP. There is no teeth to this measure to make it enforceable.


Section 301. Use of Restraints on Prisoners During the Period of Pregnancy and Postpartum Recovery Prohibited.

  • Generally speaking, this section of the First Step Act prohibits the use of restraints on pregnant and postpartum prisoners except under limited conditions. The FIRST STEP Act also provides that even if restraints may be used, BOP must only utilize the “least restrictive means” to restrain females during and after pregnancy.
  • This section of the First Step Act also imposes a number of reporting requirements on BOP related to the use of restraints during and after pregnancy. BOP is directed to conduct training regarding the use of restraints during these periods and develop guidelines for their use in consultation with healthcare officials.


BOP is directed to ensure that each facility provides a secure storage area located outside the prison’s secure perimeter to allow BOP employees to store their firearms. BOP is also directed to allow employees to store their firearms in a vehicle lockbox approved by the BOP Director.


Section 101. Risk and Needs Assessment Program.

Within 210 days after the First Step Act becoming law, the Attorney General is required to develop a “Risk and Needs Assessment System.” As previously covered in our May 11, 2018 blog post on, this system will determine individual prisoner “recidivism risk,” and help BOP staff decide which programs individual prisoners should participate in.

The First Step Act does allow the BOP to use existing tools as appropriate to satisfy this requirement under the new law. This new system will also be used to provide guidance on housing decisions in BOP.

A. Inmates Can Receive Incentives for Participating in Recidivism Reduction Programs.

The First Step Act offers significant incentives to inmates for participating in recidivism reduction programs offered at BOP institutions. These potentially include:

  • Phone privileges, or, if available, video conferencing privileges for up to 30 minutes per day, and up to 510 minutes per month;
  • Additional time for visitation at the prison as determined by the Warden;
  • Placement in a facility closer to the prisoner’s release residence, subject to bed availability, security level, and Warden support of request;
  • Increased commissary spending limits and product offerings;
  • Extended opportunities to access the email system;
  • Consideration of transfer to preferred housing units (including transfer to different prison facilities);
  • Other incentives solicited from prisoners and determined appropriate by the BOP Director.

Of all the incentives on this list, only the additional phone minutes appear to be non-discretionary. The language of the Act specifically provides that “A prisoner who is successfully participating in an evidence-based recidivism reduction program SHALL RECEIVE” the additional phone minutes.

B. Prisoners Can Accumulate Time Credits Toward More Halfway House or Home Confinement Time.

Eligible prisoners who successfully complete recidivism reduction programming or “productive activities” are eligible to receive time credits that increase the amount of time a prisoner spends in pre-release custody. Pre-release custody is typically either time in a halfway house or on home confinement, but both options allow a prisoner to sleep outside of a BOP prison.

There are a lot of ineligible prisoners who cannot earn “time credits,” which is discussed in more detail later. Programs taken prior to the First Step Act becoming law will not count towards any “time credit.” Here is how the time credits will work:

  • All eligible prisoners will earn 10 days of time credit for every 30 days of successful program participation;
  • Prisoners who BOP determines are at a “minimum” or “low risk” for recidivating and have not increased their risk over 2 consecutive assessments, will earn an additional 5 days of time credit for every 30 days of successful program participation.

C. The First Step Act Allows Time Credits to Apply Towards Up to One Year of Supervised Release.

The First Step Act provides that “the Director of the Bureau of Prisons may transfer the prisoner to begin any such term of supervised release at an earlier date, not to exceed 12 months, based on the application of time credits under section 3632.” In other words, up to one year of the time credits earned under this Act may be used to reduce the post-confinement period of supervised release.

D. Wide Array of Prisoners Excluded from Earning Time Credits.

Unfortunately, the First Step Act excludes large categories of offenders from earning the “time credits” that apply to pre-release custody or supervised release. The excluded offenses are:

‘‘(i) Section 81, relating to arson within special maritime and territorial jurisdiction.

‘‘(ii) Section 111(b), relating to assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers or employees using a deadly or dangerous weapon or inflicting bodily injury.

‘(iii) Paragraph (1), (7), or (8) of section 113(a), relating to assault with intent to commit murder, assault resulting in substantial bodily injury to a spouse or intimate partner, a dating partner, or an individual who has not attained the age of 16 years, or assault of a spouse, intimate partner, or dating partner by strangling, suffocating, or attempting to strangle or suffocate.

‘‘(iv) Section 115, relating to influencing, impeding, or retaliating against a Federal official by injuring a family member, except for a threat made in violation of that section.

‘‘(v) Section 116, relating to female genital mutilation.

‘‘(vi) Section 117, relating to domestic assault by a habitual offender.

‘‘(vii) Any section of chapter 10, relating to biological weapons.

‘‘(viii) Any section of chapter 11B, relating to chemical weapons.

‘‘(ix) Section 351, relating to Congressional, Cabinet, and Supreme Court assassination, kidnapping, and assault.

‘‘(x) Section 521, relating to criminal street gangs.

‘‘(xi) Section 751, relating to prisoners in custody of an institution or officer.

‘‘(xii) Section 793, relating to gathering, transmitting, or losing defense information.

‘‘(xiii) Section 794, relating to gathering or delivering defense information to aid a foreign government.

“‘(xiv) Any section of chapter 39, relating to explosives and other dangerous articles, except for section 836 (relating to the transportation of fireworks into a State prohibiting sale or use).

‘‘(xv) Section 842(p), relating to distribution of information relating to explosives, destructive devices, and weapons of mass destruction, but only if the conviction involved a weapon of mass destruction (as defined in section 2332a(c)).

‘‘(xvi) Subsection (f)(3), (h), or (i) of section 844, relating to the use of fire or an explosive.

‘‘(xvii) Section 924(c), relating to unlawful possession or use of a firearm during and in relation to any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime.

‘‘(xviii) Section 1030(a)(1), relating to fraud and related activity in connection with computers.

‘‘(xix) Any section of chapter 51, relating to homicide, except for section 1112 (relating to manslaughter), 1113 (relating to attempt to commit murder or manslaughter, but only if the conviction was for an attempt to commit manslaughter), 1115 (relating to misconduct or neglect of ship officers), or 1122 (relating to protection against the human immunodeficiency virus).

‘‘(xx) Any section of chapter 55, relating to kidnapping.

‘‘(xxi) Any offense under chapter 77 relating to peonage, slavery, and trafficking in persons, except for sections 1593 through 1596.

‘‘(xxii) Section 1751, relating to Presidential and Presidential staff assassination, kidnapping, and assault.

‘‘(xxiii) Section 1791, relating to providing or possessing contraband in prison.

‘‘(xxiv) Section 1792, relating to mutiny and riots.

‘‘(xxv) Section 1841(a)(2)(C), relating to intentionally killing or attempting to kill an unborn child.

‘‘(xxvi) Section 1992, relating to terrorist attacks and other violence against railroad carriers and against mass transportation systems on land, on water, or through the air.

‘‘(xxvii) Section 2113(e), relating to bank robbery resulting in death.

‘‘(xxviii) Section 2118(c), relating to robberies and burglaries involving controlled substances resulting in assault, putting in jeopardy the life of any person by the use of a dangerous weapon or device, or death.

‘‘(xxix) Paragraph (2) or (3) of section 2119, relating to taking a motor vehicle (commonly referred to as ‘carjacking’) that results in serious bodily injury or death.

‘‘(xxx) Any section of chapter 105, relating to sabotage, except for section 2152.

‘‘(xxxi) Any section of chapter 109A, relating to sexual abuse.

‘‘(xxxii) Section 2250, relating to failure to register as a sex offender.

‘‘(xxxiii) Section 2251, relating to the sexual exploitation of children.

‘‘(xxxiv) Section 2251A, relating to the selling or buying of children.

‘‘(xxxv) Section 2252, relating to certain activities relating to material involving the sexual exploitation of minors.

‘‘(xxxvi) Section 2252A, relating to certain activities involving material constituting or containing child pornography.

‘‘(xxxvii) Section 2260, relating to the production of sexually explicit depictions of a minor for importation into the United States.

‘‘(xxxviii) Section 2283, relating to the transportation of explosive, biological, chemical, or radioactive or nuclear materials.

‘‘(xxxix) Section 2284, relating to the transportation of terrorists.

‘‘(xl) Section 2291, relating to the destruction of a vessel or maritime facility, but only if the conduct that led to the conviction involved a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury.

‘‘(xli) Any section of chapter 113B, relating to terrorism.

‘‘(xlii) Section 2340A, relating to torture.

‘‘(xliii) Section 2381, relating to treason.

‘‘(xliv) Section 2442, relating to the recruitment or use of child soldiers.

‘‘(xlv) An offense described in section 3559(c)(2)(F), for which the offender was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of more than 1 year, if the offender has a previous conviction, for which the offender served a term of imprisonment of more than 1 year, for a Federal or State offense, by whatever designation and wherever committed, consisting of murder (as described in section 1111), voluntary manslaughter (as described in section 1112), assault with. intent to commit murder (as described in section 113(a)), aggravated sexual abuse and sexual abuse (as described in sections 2241 and 2242), abusive sexual contact (as described in sections 2244(a)(1) and (a)(2)), kidnapping (as described in chapter 55), carjacking (as described in section 2119), arson (as described in section 844(f)(3), (h), or (i)), or terrorism (as described in chapter 113B).

“‘(xlvi) Section 57(b) of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (42 U.S.C. 2077(b)), relating to the engagement or participation in the development or production of special nuclear material.

‘‘(xlvii) Section 92 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (42 U.S.C. 2122), relating to prohibitions governing atomic weapons.

‘‘(xlviii) Section 101 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (42 U.S.C. 2131), relating to the atomic energy license requirement.

‘‘(xlix) Section 224 or 225 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (42 U.S.C. 2274, 2275), relating to the communication or receipt of restricted data.

‘‘(l) Section 236 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (42 U.S.C. 2284), relating to the sabotage of nuclear facilities or fuel.

‘‘(li) Section 60123(b) of title 49, relating to damaging or destroying a pipeline facility, but only if the conduct which led to the conviction involved a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury.

‘‘(lii) Section 401(a) of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 841), relating to manufacturing or distributing a controlled substance in the case of a conviction for an offense described in subparagraph (A), (B), or (C) of subsection (b)(1) of that section for which death or serious bodily injury resulted from the use of such substance.

‘‘(liii) Section 276(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1326), relating to the reentry of a removed alien, but only if the alien is described in paragraph (1) or (2) of subsection (b) of that section.

‘‘(liv) Section 277 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1327), relating to aiding or assisting certain aliens to enter the United States.

‘‘(lv) Section 278 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1328), relating to the importation of an alien into the United States for an immoral purpose.

‘‘(lvi) Any section of the Export Administration Act of 1979 (50 U.S.C. 4611 et seq.)

‘‘(lvii) Section 206 of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1705).

‘‘(lviii) Section 601 of the National Security Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C. 3121), relating to the protection of identities of certain United States undercover intelligence officers, agents, informants, and sources.

‘‘(lix) Subparagraph (A)(i) or (B)(i) of section 401(b)(1) of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)) or paragraph (1)(A) or (2)(A) of section 1010(b) of the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (21 U.S.C. 960(b)), relating to manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, or possessing with intent to manufacture, distribute, dispense, or knowingly importing or exporting, a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of heroin if the sentencing court finds that the offender was an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor of others in the offense, as determined under the guidelines promulgated by the United States Sentencing Commission.

‘‘(lx) Subparagraph (A)(vi) or (B)(vi) of section 401(b)(1) of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)) or paragraph (1)(F) or (2)(F) of section 1010(b) of the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (21 U.S.C. 960(b)), relating to manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, or possessing with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of N-phenyl-N-[1-(2-phenylethyl)-4- piperidinyl] propanamide, or any analogue thereof.

“‘(lxi) Subparagraph (A)(viii) or (B)(viii) of section 401(b)(1) of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 11 841(b)(1)) or paragraph (1)(H) or (2)(H) of section 1010(b) the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (21 U.S.C. 960(b)), relating to manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, or possessing with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or knowingly importing or exporting, a mixture of substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine, its salts, isomers, or salts of its isomers, if the sentencing court finds that the offender was an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor of others in the offense, as determined under the guidelines promulgated by the United States Sentencing Commission.

‘‘(lii) Subparagraph (A) or (B) of section 401(b)(1) of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)) or paragraph (1) or (2) of section 1010(b) of the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (21 U.S.C. 960(b)), relating to manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, or possessing with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance, or knowingly importing or exporting a controlled substance, if the sentencing court finds that—(I) the offense involved a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of N-phenyl-N-[1-(2-phenylethyl)-4-piperidinyl] propanamide, or any analogue thereof; and (II) the offender was an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor of others in the offense, as determined under the guidelines promulgated by the United States Sentencing Commission.”

E. Non-Citizens Ineligible for Applying Time Credits.

The First Step Act bars non-citizens who are subject to a final removal order from APPLYING time credits under the bill. That means time credits could be earned, but they cannot be used for early release to pre-release custody.

F. Prisoners Reassessed at Least Every Year.

The new law requires BOP to individually reassess each inmate who is participating in the risk assessment programs or “productive activities” at least every year. Prisoners who have less than 5 years until their release and are at a medium or high risk of recidivating assessment must receive more frequent evaluations.

G. BOP to Establish Penalties for Loss of Incentives.

Unsurprisingly, the First Step Act also requires BOP to establish policies and procedures for the reduction of rewards and incentives prisoners earn under the First Step Act. Importantly, any reduction that includes the loss of time credits requires written notice to the prisoner and cannot include the loss of any future time credit.

H. Evidence-Based Recidivism Reduction Program Evaluations.

Rather than start from scratch, the First Step Act directs the Attorney General to evaluate the effectiveness of currently existing programs in the BOP and at state correctional facilities. The new law instructs the Attorney General to identify the most effective evidence-based programs and direct the BOP regarding the addition of new programs.

I. 5 Years of Detailed Reporting to Congress on First Step Act.

Starting two years after the First Step Act became law, the Attorney General is required to provide extensive detailed reporting to Congress on a number of subjects covered by the new law. The Attorney General is required to provide this report for a minimum of 5 consecutive years.

The Attorney General’s report must include, among other things: 1) a summary of the “activities and accomplishments” in carrying out the First Step Act; 2) an assessment of the types and effectiveness of the evidence-based recidivism reduction programs operated by BOP; 3) rates of recidivism among former inmates after release from prison based on six separate criteria; 4) the status of prison work programs and availability at BOP facilities; and 5) an assessment of any savings associated with placing more prisoners in pre-release custody.

J. Definitions of Terms Used.

“Evidence-based recidivism reduction program” is defined generally as an activity that “has been shown by empirical evidence … or is based on research indicating that it is likely to be effective in reducing recidivism,” and is “designed to help prisoners succeed in their communities upon release from prison.”

“Productive Activity” is defined as an activity that is designed to allow prisoners of minimum or low risk of recidivating to “remain productive,” and it may include “the delivery of” the evidence-based recidivism reduction programs to other prisoners.

Section 102. Implementation of System and BOP Recommendations.

A. 180 Days to Implement Risk and Needs Assessment.

180 days after the Attorney General develops the risk and needs assessment system, the BOP is required to implement the system for each prisoner by conducting an initial assessment. The First Step Act specifically provides that it does not matter how long a prisoner’s sentence may be: everyone is going to be assessed.

B. Two-Year Phase-In Period.

At the same time, the BOP must begin to assign prisoners to appropriate evidence-based recidivism reduction programs based on these assessments. The BOP is given a 2-year phase-in period to provide all inmates with access to the appropriate evidence-based programming.

During the 2-year phase-in period inmates with the most immediate release dates will be given priority for participation in the programs that can earn “time credit” towards pre-release custody.

Within 2 years of the BOP completing the risk and needs assessment tool the BOP must provide access to the evidence-based programs for all prisoners.

C. Preliminary Expansion of Existing BOP Programs.

The First Step Act gives the BOP authority to expand any existing evidence-based recidivism reduction programs immediately. The BOP is also permitted to offer prisoners the incentives and rewards such as “time credit,” phone privileges, commissary benefits, etc. immediately.

D. Rules for Outside Partnerships.

The Attorney General is directed to develop policies in order to expand the availability of evidence-based programs through partnerships with nonprofits, higher education institutions, and certain private entities.

E. BOP Required to Provide Programs to All Prisoners.

The First Step Act establishes a clear requirement that the BOP provide all prisoners throughout their entire sentence with the opportunity to “actively participate in evidence-based recidivism reduction programs,” according to the specific needs of each prisoner.

Priority for participation in these evidence-based programs will be given to medium and high risk prisoners. Only minimum risk and low risk prisoners will be allowed to participate in the “productive activities” created by the First Step Act.

F. Fixing the “54 Day” Problem with Good Conduct Time Credit.

In addition to allowing federal prisoners the opportunity to spend longer amounts of time in pre-release custody, the First Step Act criminal justice prison reform fixes a longstanding problem with how federal good conduct time is calculated.

The First Step Act requires the BOP to award 54 days of good conduct time for each year of the sentence that was imposed. Additionally, the law changes the way that prorated good conduct time is credited. Under the First Step Act, “credit for the last year of imprisonment shall be credited on the first day of the last year of the term of imprisonment.”

This provision of the law is RETROACTIVE. The effective date of the change, however, is in dispute. Advocates for the bill understood this provision to take effect immediately. The BOP, on the other hand, asserts that this will not go into effect until 210 days from December 21, 2018, which is July 19, 2019

G. Pre-release Custody or Supervised Release Transfer for “Time Credits.”

Inmates who earn credits for participating in the First Step Act evidence-based recidivism risk reduction programs may be transferred to pre-release custody or supervised release. Transfer to supervised release cannot be for more than 12 months. There is no 12 month restriction on how long a prisoner can remain on home confinement or in a halfway house through the use of earned time credits.

Inmates with enough credits and minimum-risk or low-risk assessment for the last two assessment periods are automatically eligible for transfer.

Inmates who are otherwise qualified to use their time credits for a pre-release custody transfer but were not low-risk for the last 2 assessments can still obtain a transfer, but they must obtain approval of their petition for transfer by their warden, who must determine that: 1) the prisoner would not be a danger to society if transferred; 2) the prisoner made a good faith effort to lower their recidivism risk level; and 3) the prisoner is unlikely to recidivate.

H. Pre-Release Terms.

Inmates sent to home confinement are subject to 24-hour electronic monitoring. This is consistent with existing federal law. The prisoners on home confinement can only leave their home with permission for certain allowed activities such as work or community service.

Any prisoner placed on home confinement must remain on home confinement until they have served at least 85% of their imposed sentence. There are no changes to how a residential re-entry center (halfway house) placement for a prisoner would operate under the First Step Act.

I. Supervised Release Transfer.

The BOP Director is authorized to transfer a prisoner to begin their term of supervised release at an earlier date based on the application of time credits. This use of the time credits earned under the First Step Act represents a significant change to current practice.

J. BOP to Work with Probation and Pretrial Services.

Since there are going to be many more prisoners serving their sentence on home confinement, the First Step Act directs BOP to work with Probation to allocate resources effectively. Probation is specifically required by Congress to offer assistance to any prisoner it can who is on pre-release custody.

We anticipate a significant expansion in the number of Probation officers nationwide to accommodate the changes put in place by this new law. We also believe that existing programs such as the Federal Location Monitoring Program (FLMP) will be expanded through Probation’s work with BOP.

K. BOP Must Ensure Enough Pre-Release Space Is Available.

Currently there are hundreds if not thousands of BOP prisoners who are eligible for pre-release placement in a halfway house but are not able to take advantage of those placements. BOP routinely claims that there is simply not enough capacity in the halfway homes to accommodate everyone who is eligible to transfer to them.

The First Step Act eliminates this problem. Under the new law, the Director of BOP is required to ensure there is sufficient prerelease custody capacity “to accommodate all eligible prisoners.” This alone would help many incarcerated prisoners transition into the community earlier than they would without the First Step Act.

Section 103. GAO Report.

The Government Accountability Office is required to conduct an audit every two years of the BOP’s use of the risk and needs assessment system created by the First Step Act. There are a number of required topics which the GAO must include in their bi-annual audit which are not discussed here.

Section 104. Authorization of Appropriations.

In the past, Congress has often passed laws stating high ideals but with little money to back them up in the real world. That is not the case for the First Step Act. This bill authorizes $75 million dollars annually from 2019-2023 to carry out the First Step Act.

Congress is clearly putting its money where its mouth is with this criminal justice reform Act. Also, 80% of these funds are to be used only to implement the risk and needs assessment system so BOP cannot use these dollars for their general budget.

Section 105. Rule of Construction.

Nothing in the First Step Act can be read to create any authority to place a prisoner into pre-release custody who are not serving a sentence for a federal crime only.

Section 106. Faith-Based Considerations.

In evaluating the use or implementation of any program under the First Step Act, the BOP cannot discriminate against any program on the ground that it is faith-based in any way.

Section 107. Independent Review Committee.

Under the First Step Act, an Independent Review Committee is established to assist the Attorney General in developing the risk and needs assessment tool. The Committee is directed to conduct a review of existing tools used by BOP, develop recommendations regarding programming for prisoners, and conduct research on the effectiveness of programs used by BOP. The Committee will terminate two years after the risk and needs assessment system is released.

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About Brandon Sample

Brandon Sample is an attorney, author, and criminal justice reform activist. Brandon’s law practice is focused on federal criminal defense, federal appeals, federal post-conviction relief, federal civil rights litigation, federal administrative law, and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).


  1. Lakeisha Greggs on December 24, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    I would like to get some clarity. My love one is incarcerated in the feds for crack cocaine and a 924c charge. They were stacked together given him 140 months for the narcotic and 60 months for the gun. How would the first step act help him if any? I’m trying to get clarity of the law

    • Nicole on January 2, 2019 at 8:13 pm

      It would not help him if he is already sentenced. It is only affecting people being sentenced going forward. Hopefully another form of legislation will eventually make this law retroactive.

      • Eddie garcia on February 27, 2019 at 6:32 pm

        How about if my family member has felon in poss firearm and 841 distribution of methanphetamine charges can he still earn time credits for programs

        • Jeremy Steele 11609002 on April 17, 2019 at 2:02 pm

          My love one is still incarcerated doing 21yrs for carjacking and 7yrs for a gun charge his codefendants is out…he had no criminal history point,one of his codefendants had got careered out and since they made a mistake on his count which both of them had the same counts they correct it and let him go,so he got 14yrs and he got 5yrs on the same count with the same enhancements, is there any way that this can be wrong…and his codefendants had one more count more…how is it possible that my son is still in prison is the justice system fair across the broad case is out of Montgomery Alabama Middle District his codefendant is Prentess Deshun Walker of u think he may have some relief please let me know thanks for your time

        • HH on June 16, 2019 at 11:29 am

          Wide Array of Prisoners Excluded from Earning Time Credits.

          Unfortunately, the First Step Act excludes large categories of offenders from earning the “time credits” that apply to pre-release custody or supervised release. The excluded offenses are:

          ‘‘(xvii) Section 924(c), relating to unlawful possession or use of a firearm during and in relation to any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime.

      • check the facts on August 14, 2019 at 5:26 pm

        that’s actually not true. It affects stacked prior sentences

    • Brandon Sample on January 2, 2019 at 9:33 pm

      Depending on when he was sentenced, he may be able to benefit from retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act, which is part of the First Step Act. If you want to discuss further please call my office at 802-444-4357.

      • monique stonum on October 3, 2019 at 10:40 pm

        i am on bond in a halfway house for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine. I am trying to get home confinement now. are there any laws on this that could help me stay on probation or get me the lowest sentence possible? could you email me if so

      • Lois Clark on October 18, 2019 at 9:02 am

        My son was sentenced to treatment 120 while in there he was wrote up over eating pop tart he was put on work he finished the hrs of work,then he got wrote up again when he first got there forgetting shut locker,travis .so he did work program finished it.a was put in hole for 10 days for money being on 1 another accout.pd his due by staying in hole.then got put back in hole a kicked out of treatment for breaking up a fight after all people that was in treatment was told to break up fights if see one a that’s exactly what he he transfered a possible serving 7yr .I think its unfair also po said he was doing right by breaking fight up made good reports a he still got sentenced ao unfair .

  2. Jules on December 25, 2018 at 9:59 am

    I would also appreciate any information you could provide about a 924(c) charge. My loved one is currently serving a ten year sentence for drug trafficking (cocaine) and five years of that sentence is for a legal firearm with all it’s papera that was taken from a home safe. That firearm was never used anywhwre other than a shooting range, and they only charged him for it because a witness in the case (another defendant) said he had the firearm on him during a drug transaction. He is also a first time offender with no criminal background of any kind. Could he benefit under this bill at all? He’s in year six of his ten year sentence and currently serving the 924(c) part of his sentence.

    • Tolsty Citroen on December 29, 2018 at 10:43 am

      The 924(c) stacking change is NOT retroactive so anyone who was already sentenced will NOT benefit from this one bit. Which makes absolutely 0 logical sense. But once again the “tough on crime” right-wingers (Ted Cruz and company) insisted that if the 924(c) stacking ‘fix’ (It was never meant to be able to be stacked, it was basically a ‘loophole’ in the law for prosecutors to use to increase mandatory minimum sentences), NOT be retroactive as this would “release thousands of violent felons on to the streets.” The crack cocaine changes are being made retroactive, but anyone with a 924(c) charge who got the rough end of the stick through stacking is, sadly, SOL on this one. Also more good news, any inmate who was charged with a 924(c) is excluded from being able to participate in any time-reduction earned time credit programs, as outlined above in Section 101 part D:

      “D. Wide Array of Prisoners Excluded from Earning Time Credits.

      Unfortunately, the First Step Act excludes large categories of offenders from earning the “time credits” that apply to pre-release custody or supervised release. The excluded offenses are:

      (xvii) Section 924(c), relating to unlawful possession or use of a firearm during and in relation to any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime.

      Once again, this was not in the original bill but was insisted upon by the right wingers.

      Basically the only benefit anyone with a 924(c) charge will see with this bill is the increase of good time from 47 to 54 days a year, (which will be applied since incarceration), the 500 miles from family location, and a few of the other minor things that this bill changes. All in all, not much at all. As a fellow family member of someone who is incarcerated on stacked 924(c) charges, I’m really losing hope that anything will ever change.

      The fact that this change is not applied retroactively makes absolutely 0 sense to me. It’s basically saying “OK, we know that this law was incorrect back then, but because you committed the crime back then then it’s ok.” If, for example, slavery were legal and this bill made it illegal, would it also not apply retroactively? After all, in the past it was legal legal. Do people get to keep their slaves?

      Hopefully this is just the FIRST STEP, but seeing as how long it took and how much compromise had to be made just to get this very minor change made law, who knows how long it will take for more change to occur.

      • Jenn on January 6, 2019 at 1:16 am

        I know most of these things are not retroactive, but is there still some sort of grace period? My husband was sentenced 3 weeks to the day before this was signed into law?

        I was also wondering about the specific use of the words “drug trafficking” with the 924(c) and that not qualifying for the program credits. Do you think that leaves open the argument for qualification if the charge is listed as possession and not trafficking? It’s frustrating to know that the version of this bill without the rebublican concessions said that 924(c) would qualify as long as the gun wasn’t brandished. I’m sure there’s a lot more non-violent offenders with this charge that didn’t even have a gun on their person but still get lumped with those that escalated..

  3. Christian Diaz on December 30, 2018 at 3:01 am

    I have a love one that’s in federal prison serving a sentence for multiple 924 c conviction and he was sentence to 32 yrs in prison they gave him 7 yrs for the first count and 25 for the second count. Now the bill States that for first time offenders they can’t hit you with 25 yrs mandatory sentence but that won’t make it retroactive . My kid doesn’t have a history of violence and this is his first time in the system I think that it’s very on fair for a lot of young people out there in prison that can get on play because they don’t wanna make it retroactive

    • Lisa on July 20, 2019 at 4:31 pm

      Facing up to 3yrs for drug charge..did not go to court for sentencing…now have warrent…how can fist act help me

  4. Sally o on January 1, 2019 at 12:38 am

    My loved one is serving a 7 yr sentence on drug charges he has no prior record this is his first time to ever be in trouble for anything he is at a low level prison camp. Will the first step act help him at all with reducing his time?

    • Brandon Sample on January 2, 2019 at 9:33 pm

      Possibly through taking programs in the prison. That part of the law is not set up yet, though.

  5. Betty Thiel on January 1, 2019 at 9:54 pm

    My husband’s out date is Sept. 27, 2019. His original sentence being 30 months, he went to a FPC July 24, 2017. He is 68 years old. Case mgr allegedly submitted form for 1/2 way house in May, 2018. We’ve received no notice yet. Is it possible that 1st step Act will allow him to be placed in home detention in next few months? Does your firm handle cases toward end? Thank you.

    • Brandon Sample on January 2, 2019 at 9:35 pm

      Doubtful because it is going to take time for BOP to implement this law.

      • Doris Torres on January 7, 2019 at 7:39 pm

        My husband case worker said he qualifies for the program and his case says release to streets but he has a detainer which date will be up Jan. 20 is there a possibility of him coming home after that date is up or will he has to wait to his original release date?

  6. Rebecca P on January 3, 2019 at 5:36 am

    My husband is currently in federal custody.. the plea deal he was originally offered was a 10 year sentence. Which I felt wasn’t a plea deal at all considering the mandatory minimum is 10. His charge is a conspiracy to distribute 500g of methamphetamine. He has no prior drug convictions, no violent offenses, however he does have a felony case where he served 18 months in state prision… will this first step act benefit him at all? I haven’t seen any questions regarding inmates currently waiting to be sentenced.

  7. Jennifer J on January 3, 2019 at 10:10 am

    Good Morning,
    My husband will benefit from the Elderly Offender Home confinement change, he is now 62, non violent, first time offender, has now served his 66.6% of his time, is currently in a camp. Of course he has been asking for any information and the BOP seems to know nothing not even what forms need to be filled out to get him out of there. What forms if any does he need to go ahead and fill out? He will come straight home for home confinement even without this change he was not having to go to a half way house, with that I have already been visited by the PO but it was almost a year ago. I was told at that time he was cleared to come home but I have not and was not given any papers to show this. Do I need to contact the PO and have them come back out to do a recheck also since it was over a year now? Seems as though we are in the dark and not getting much info as some many others are. Thanks your your input.

    • Christopher Zoukis on January 6, 2019 at 10:09 am

      First, if you are interested in reading more about how the First Step Act of 2018 has changed the Elderly Offender Home Detention Program, you can read our article at

      More specific to your inquiry, if USPO has already come by the house and approved it, then ideally there shouldn’t be anything else for you to do. To check on a status update, your husband could speak with his case manager. If that goes nowhere, and this is a bit bolder of a move, he could speak with the Case Manager Coordinator (CMC). This is the person who oversees all case managers at each BOP facility.

      • Nayashia Hill on January 7, 2019 at 1:54 pm

        Is there any info on when the programming law will come into affect?

  8. Kristen on January 3, 2019 at 6:17 pm

    How does this first step act affect my husband? He was incarcerated in a FPC in October for embezzlement. Yes I realize it was for a small sentence of ten months compared to most. He is wanting to get to a halfway house or home confinement but they keep referring him to Grand Prarie,TX whom keeps referring us back to FPC. He was the bread winner of our family and we have four children. We just are hoping to get him closer to home!

  9. Phillis on January 7, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    At the age of 63 my brother was arrested,tried & convicted of violation, 18U.S.C. SS2422(b).He has been confined in a federal prison (low) sine May of 2012. All appeals to prove his innosence have failed,even a 2255. Thru years of research he says he can now prove, thru trail transcripts and case law that his 4th,6th, & 18th amendment rights were violated. And now needs help to put research into context for a second 2255. Now since the New “revised” First Step Act has been signed I am I hopes it applies to him and qualifies him for early release. He is in a Federal LOW prison. He is Now 71years old.He is a NON first time offender, his convicted offense was catergorized as “INTENT”.And he has served more than 66.6% 2/3% of his time. Does he qualify for consideration in the First Step program? If not would you consider looking over his research and help or advise him on how to submit another 2255. Sincere thanks in advance

  10. Phillis Martin on January 7, 2019 at 1:00 pm

    At the age of 63 my brother was arrested,tried & convicted of violation, 18U.S.C. SS2422(b).He has been confined in a federal prison (low) sine May of 2012. All appeals to prove his innosence have failed,even a 2255. Thru years of research he says he can now prove, thru trail transcripts and case law that his 4th,6th, & 18th amendment rights were violated. And now needs help to put research into context for a second 2255. Now since the New “revised” First Step Act has been signed I am I hopes it applies to him and qualifies him for early release. He is in a Federal LOW prison. He is Now 71years old.He is a NON first time offender, his convicted offense was catergorized as “INTENT”.And he has served more than 66.6% 2/3% of his time. Does he qualify for consideration in the First Step program? If not would you consider looking over his research and help or advise him on how to submit another 2255. Sincere thanks in advance

  11. Sara on January 7, 2019 at 2:46 pm

    For someone who is going to be convicted on two counts : one of them is drug charges and the other count is 924c, the person has no criminal history before, does the first act bill help her to serve the time concurrently instead of consecutively??
    I appreciate any response

  12. Tanisha Stamps on January 8, 2019 at 10:25 pm

    Hi, I noticed that your article was written before First Step became law. Just wondering if you could tell me if I have the correct understanding as it pertains to 924c? So the bill reads as…

    (a) In General.—Section 924(c)(1)(C) of title 18, United States Code, is amended, in the matter preceding clause (i), by striking “second or subsequent conviction under this subsection” and inserting “violation of this subsection that occurs after a prior conviction under this subsection has become final”.

    (b) Applicability To Pending Cases.—This section, and the amendments made by this section, shall apply to any offense that was committed before the date of enactment of this Act, if a sentence for the offense has not been imposed as of such date of enactment.

    So it is my understanding that they changed the language so that those now being charged with 924c must now be in violation of prior final conviction. Meaning they have completed a prior sentencing conviction. And that it applies to persons whom have been convicted before the date of this law. Meaning it doesn’t need to read verbatim “retroactive” for persons whom have already been sentenced. And all those currently face sentencing for 924c must now adhere to this law and be recharged or see if 924c applies to them as a violation.
    This is my understanding. Also, have you heard anything about them adding more to this bill?
    Thank you in advance for your help.

    • Brandon Sample on January 13, 2019 at 12:56 am

      The article was recent and edited based on the final version of the law. So it is current. As applied to 924(c), this provision only applies to persons who have not yet been sentenced as of December 21, 2018.

      • Melissa Johnson on February 14, 2019 at 11:36 am

        Hi, so my husband was sentenced in August of 2018, this bill will not affect his sentence date?

  13. Emily Carte on January 16, 2019 at 8:27 pm

    My mother in law has been incarcerated for sometime in federal prison. I read through the guidlines and she would be able to get early release because of this act however I have no idea how to get the ball rolling. Do they randomly pick inmates that fit the criteria for First Step or do we need to reach out and file paperwork? Any feedback would be great. Thanks.

  14. ALEJNADRA on January 22, 2019 at 9:50 pm

    buenas noches. mi familiar es colombiano, fue extraditado en el mes de octubre de 2018 requerido por una corte de California sindicado de narcotrafico. aun no tiene corte hasta septiembre de 2019, queremos saber como esta ley puede ayudar en su proceso y en el tiempo que le den de condena. el no tiene antecendetes ni en USA ni en Colombia .

    Goodnight. my family member is Colombian, he was extradited in the month of October 2018 required by a California court charged with drug trafficking. still does not have a court until September 2019, we want to know how this law can help in the process and in the time that you are sentenced. he has no antecedents neither in the USA nor in Colombia.

  15. Susan on January 31, 2019 at 12:15 am

    My spouse has pleaded guilty to a tax evasion charge and three counts of willful failure to file. In his plea agreement, he has agreed to 36 months of incarceration with 3 years of probation. Will this new act help him to get home to us quicker. Will he be allowed to take the reprogramming classes and is there anything I need to do now to get out in front of allowing him to do this. Any information would be appreciated as we need him home as quick as possible. Thank you.

  16. Juanita R Cantu on February 4, 2019 at 7:19 pm

    My Son was incarcerated over 11 years ago. For a Felon being around a weapon with an enhancement of 15 years which total sentence is 24 years. Although he is now waiting on an appeal due to some changes in the law…would this first act apply to him?

  17. Amber K on February 6, 2019 at 8:34 pm

    Good evening. My husabnd who has never been charged or convicted of a crime, was not given much of a choice when it same to taking a plea or going to trial to “roll the dice on the next 20 years; ie not see his children again until they were adults”.
    The “witnesses” were themselves the guilty parties (with prior felony convictions) and basically pointed the finger at him as the “mastermind” behind an marijuana growing operation in Colorado.
    Long story short his sentence is excessive, over 9 years. It’s a non-violent marijuana case in a state where marijuana is legal. We have children and his absence is detrimental both emotionally and financially, his father has been diagnosed with cancer and they intent on keeping him on the other side of the u.s. All the while the persons responsible (criminal felons) are fee and continuing to commit crimes because they “cooperated” and pointed the finger at my husband; a family man and law abiding citizen with no record. – I can see where the programs will help potentially reduce this overall sentence but is there any other applicable change that could refuce his time?

  18. Shyra Clark on February 9, 2019 at 5:19 pm

    Hi I’m trying to figure something out for my brother who’s incarcerated. He was transferred from Ohio to S. Carolina to a camp 4 months ago, which he had changed his address. Now family has moved since than back to Ohio. How long does he have to wait with the new federal law sec 601 to transfer back to Ohio to be at least 500 Miles from his primary address close to family? Should he change the address back to Ohio ASAP?, and how long does he have to be at the facility that he’s at before he can transfer is it still atleast a year or did it change with the new law??

  19. Tandra Loud on February 17, 2019 at 11:30 am

    My husband just plead guilty to a Federal Deug case with over 70 kilos involved. He was the courier, which I heard in Federal Court that it was a small role but has a minimum of 10 years and and a max of life. He hasn’t been sentenced yet. He has no prior drug or violent charges. Would he benefit from the First Step Act?
    Thank you

  20. Eddie garcia on February 27, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    I have a family member in federal prison for 841 distribution of methanphetamine and felon in poss of firearm can he still earn the extra time credit for residivism programs?

  21. Brandy on March 23, 2019 at 11:08 am

    I’m trying to understand this law if it will have any impact on my Fiancé /Bestfriend sentence.
    I’m having a very hard time trusting our justice system due to how broken & unfair it is! It seems to destroy lives rather than rehabilitate.
    In 2013, my guy was sentenced to 5 years Probation for a Felony Battery & before people assume ( he was in a restraunt eating drinking having a good time until a over toxicated man harassed the woman saying vile things they moved to 2 different areas unfortunately it didn’t stop & did initiate a fight! Probation was issued due to the man actually admitted he was responsible and started it asking the courts to not give him prison. Instead of 3 years in prison he got 5 years probation. In 2015 he was in a motorcycle accident and airlifted into another county he had violated his probation because he had driven over county lines mistake and screwed up YES!!! However he was in a coma for over a month he had broken his leg in to 13 different places multiple surgeries for rods screws his spleen removed and on dialysis ( You would think he was punished enough)
    Later 2015 he could not take it any more went back to work limping in pain has 2 daughters to support.
    Like a gray cloud following him a man at work that had been drinking on the job started a fight went after him and in my guy defense it was a natural reaction to protect him self he was still healing from the accident he was in no shape to fight this man. The man came around and he got hit one time done no need to fight further he just wanted him to back away. Man came back to work next day every thing was fine and every one went on with there lives until the phone calls of threats to pay up or he was pressing charges needless to say he did . Courts believed my guy story and unfortunately it was a misadameanor that violated his probation for the 2013 felony battery!
    Now this trial went on until 2018 every day my guy woke up went to work went to gym home every night! We lived a normal life! That was until May 2018 when the prosecutors decided to give him 39 months in Prison for VOP on a felony from 2013 that was not even his fault.
    A man living in society working every day being a father his probation officers loved him calling him a model citizen he never missed a appointment he walked a straight line. Life happened and it drives me crazy seeing what his life has turned into there’s no rehabilitation in prison its Drugs cruel Guards and fighting for your life his first few weeks they put him in Holmes a violent prison where a gang wanted to kill him over a damn Honey Bun! His ribs were cracked we had to call Tallahassee and pleaded for him to be put in solitary he was terrified for his life. These prisons are a joke there’s no rehabilitation just cruelty and drugs and fighting and dirty guards not all but a lot from what I’ve witnessed my self.
    So please tell me will this law help save the man that I love.

  22. Will Combs on April 11, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    I think I read somewhere in your First Step law summary text that if an elderly inmate was incarcerated for a crime committed after age 60, they could not qualify for early Elderly Release from prison. Did I misread that information or is that correct?

  23. Dawn on April 20, 2019 at 3:29 am

    My loved one is doing 2 life sentences for a crime he did not commit (Robb gun or deadly weapon) , in other words he has been Affected by harsh sentencing laws. Will the First Step Act help us

  24. Camron on April 24, 2019 at 1:30 am

    I’m being sentence to a 3 year mandatory sentence for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon will this first step act help me get time reduced I’m not a violent person nor do I have a violent criminal history

  25. Joh Anna on April 25, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    Can a inmate still receive GCT days if they lost some days 5 years ago?

  26. Fay on May 23, 2019 at 9:20 pm

    Any help for inmates in state prison .inmates in NJ who are serving life 30 years before eligible for parole. They spend 30 years. Come up for parole and the parole board give them hits of 9 to 15 years. NJ has Nd 85 percent law plus what life means. The parole board just does what other want no over seeing and no one to answer to
    NJ needs help

  27. Pola.cannette. on May 30, 2019 at 10:34 am

    Is this law for state prisons as well.

  28. Liz on June 6, 2019 at 2:14 am

    Will bop hire for an office position, if a misdemeanor for assault and battery is on record and on probation?

  29. Rita Bishop on June 19, 2019 at 9:33 am

    I have not seen my question addressed so crossing my fingers…. In 2014 My son was sentenced the first time to 8 years for burglary of a habitation but was not armed nor threatened anybody as nobody was home. He made parole at the end of 2014 but in 2017 he was arrested for unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon which confuses me because he was not in possession of the firearm. It was on my property, in my storage building, behind a locked door that he didn’t have access to. I had to unlock the door for the officers. I was holding the gun for one of my other kids while they had company at their home during the holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas). He was denied parole last year in June but is back in the parole review process now. Projected release date is October 2019 but Max sentenced date is 2023. Any opinion on if he may qualify for the Home confinement as his father and I are both disabled and was our caretaker before his arrest.

  30. Debra on June 26, 2019 at 10:25 pm

    From the state of Ohio, can an inmate have a state to state parole transfer to his family upon judicial release or do they have to stay in the state?

  31. Yella mitchel on July 3, 2019 at 2:10 am

    I have a question for any non criminal offense under the new law do you automatically get probation? Wondering for someone in fed holding facility in leavenworth ks

  32. Sparkle on July 9, 2019 at 8:50 am

    Hey my name is sparkle my love one was sentenced March14,2019 to 63 months with 1year time serve an recommended the drug treatment class an 3year supervised release he wants to no would he be eligible for the first step program an would it help with his time it’s saying he be released November 19,2022 don’t seem like he got the time serve credit

  33. Marie Cusick on July 16, 2019 at 3:25 pm

    My best friend was sentenced to 69 months for a white collar non-violent crime and has served six months so far in a federal satellite camp. She has no prior trouble with the law. She is working hard to earn as many earned time credits as she can by participating in programs and jobs in the prison. She is almost 59 years old. Will she be eligible for home confinement when she reaches 60 years old?

  34. Enrique Enriquez on July 17, 2019 at 3:13 pm

    Did the First Step Act has any differentiation for ineligible federal inmates
    1) People who enter the country illegally as an adult and commit a crime. ( enter illegal to U.S.A.)
    2) People who enter the country illegally as a child and commit a crime at adult age. (enter illegally to U.S.A.)
    3) Peoples who enter legally with visa, as an adult or as a child overstay their visa, become illegals and commit a crime. ( enter legally to U.S.A.)
    4) People who enter as adults, with U.S. A. residence after been approved in an U.S.A. consulate and commit a crime after having U.S.A. residence for years.( enter legally and become legal residents).
    5) People who enter as a child legally as a minor less than 18 years old and become a legal U.S.A. residents because their parents apply for them in an U.S.A. consulate and after living in the U.S.A. for decades commit a crime (enter legally and was a residents for decades.)

    Any of this category may receive the opportunity to reduce their sentences for good behavior through the First Step Act programs? or all of them are ineligibles?
    Why will be a reasonable arguments to exclude these peoples from the benefits of First Steps Act?
    It is well known that some countries has no agreement with U.S.A. and U.S.A. is not allow to deport peoples to some countries, another countries like Cuba are willing to receive a very low percent, there are more than 35,000 peoples living with restrictions in the Miami-Dade County area with deportation order because Cuba are not accepting them.
    Why the First Step Act excluded people from receive sentencing reduction for good behavior, they are allow to participate in the First Step Act program without receiving the benefits for participation?. Is better for U.S.A. prison system to keep this people marginalized and stay the whole sentences in U.S.A. prisons or giving them the same opportunities to earn credit for good behavior? This will be a reasonable way to reduce the costly federal prison population to make prison safest and to be more fair. This ineligibles will be having a deportation court earlier and if the court ordered deportation the inmate will be deported instead to be in federal custody. What is the purpose to keep this peoples in the costly federal prison system more time instead to be deported earlier after the First Step Act program reducing sentences and immigration court process?

  35. tara on July 19, 2019 at 11:33 am

    i was released in march 2019.
    i completed the drug rdap program and i was sent to the halfway house and i get confinement on august 29..
    what benifits will i recieve and will they take off some of my probation

  36. James Esc on August 6, 2019 at 9:16 am

    I’m trying to clarify the amendments which first step act has imposed regarding “good time credits” issuance to eligible inmates specifically on inmates recieving credits. As my fiance is currently incarcerated which she was senetwnce January 30,2019 on revocation of probation of a sentencing of only 12 months not 12 months and a day as BOP calculates good time by 366 days were inmate served previous year now Does First Step Act changes this since you are given good time credit before you complete a year and cancels out the 12 months and a day?.

  37. Shannon C Brown on August 7, 2019 at 12:01 pm

    My nephew was sentenced 7/23/2019 and received a total sentence of 270 months. The term consists of 210 months (to run concurrently) for count 1 Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of meth, count 2 knowingly and intentionally possessing with the intent to distribute meth and 60 months on count 3 possession of a firearm in furtherance of a controlled substance trafficking offense which is to be run consecutively. He had a criminal history of ZERO….don’t think he ever even had a traffic ticket The guideline range was 210-262. I think the judge erred in calculating the total term. I thought that the total punishment was to be apportioned among all the counts of conviction.

  38. Stephanie Morris on August 20, 2019 at 1:00 am

    Does this apply to people that are already out on probation can they get early release for good behavior?

  39. Ashley on August 28, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    Hi a loved one of mines is currently being held In federal custody on a 924c charge and also a drug charge he’s been there 7 months the lawyer visited him once offering a plea for 15 yrs will the any of the new laws be able to help him in anyway and if so how can we fight this for a lesser sentence also I believe a 924c charge is when some uses a firearm during a drug trafficking offense although allegedly there were drugs found in the home the gun wasn’t used for that purpose his home was invaded with his family was inside he used the gun in self defense! Is this something that can be fought or what can be done to help him please respond

    • Cali on April 8, 2020 at 8:32 am

      I would like to start by stating the federal system is so unfair. My question to you is my partner/father of my baby is currently facing a conspiracy to distribute heroin charge. A phone call was interrupted of him calling to pick him from someone well the number one on the case. Gets it from dudes wife which is number 3 on the case my partner being number 2 . Gets pulled over they find the dope. Later feds get him and all they have against my partner in the whole case is what they pulled him over with. My man WAS NOT selling he was struggling with his addication super bad he was going to the clinic wen the fed got him they took him straight to detox. Well the wife is being released and my mans appointed attorney has not filed anything on his behalf to state the allegations are in correct. He wasnt selling they have nothing to proof that allegations. What can be done in the case. I try to reach out and ask his lawyer which he refuses to speak to me. I wont allow the father of child to be screwed for something he was not doing. I think they using him to get the girl out on a deal or something I dont know but what advice can u give or where are u located. WE NEED HELP PLEASEEEE

  40. Fredrick on November 26, 2019 at 4:56 am

    I have a friend who was sentenced in July of 2018 for conspiracy of trafficking marijuana. Hen they came to arrest her for those charges they found a gun while searching. Does the 924(c) apply to her case?

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