Risk and Needs Assessment System/Earned Time Credits (Title I)

The First Step Act requires the Department of Justice to develop a risk and needs assessment tool to be used by Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) to assess the recidivism risk of all federal prisoners. Inmates will be classified as minimum, low, medium or high risk, and will be placed in recidivism reduction programs based on identified needs.

Those who successfully complete recidivism reduction programming can earn additional time credits (i.e., "earned time credits") that will allow them to be placed in pre-release custody, such as home confinement or a Residential Reentry Center, earlier than previously allowed. Several classes of inmates are ineligible to earn additional time credits under the Act, although these prisoners can earn other benefits, such as additional visitation time and increased phone minutes, for successfully completing recidivism reduction programming. Disqualifying offenses include trafficking in fentanyl, trafficking in heroin or methamphetamine where the sentencing court also found a role enhancement, sex offenses, and violent offenses if the defendant was sentenced to more than one year of imprisonment and has certain prior convictions.  A deportable person subject to a final order of removal is also ineligible to receive earned time credits.

Although the First Step Act became law on December 21, 2018, and many of its provisions took effect at that time, the BOP’s recidivism programming and earned time credits are being phased in over the course of three years. 

The Department of Justice is in the process of finalizing its assessment tool, named the Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Needs (PATTERN). The tool was released on July 19, 2019.  After a public comment period, the BOP made changes to PATTERN in January 2020. The tool itself has not been made available to the public. 

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