In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) introduced this bill to improve U.S. prisons and give more incarcerated individuals a chance at rehabilitation and reentry into society. After this bill passed the House Judiciary Committee, he said:
“Passage of the FIRST STEP Act last year was a significant bipartisan accomplishment to improve America’s prisons and give more incarcerated individuals the chance at rehabilitation and reentry into society. I'm particularly proud of our improvements and expansion of the pilot program to allow elderly prisoners to transition to home confinement for the remainder of their sentence. Elderly prisoners are among the most vulnerable in our nation’s prison system. This bill's small clarification to include good time credit is a humane fix that will also reduce federal costs."
R Street and 33 other organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans for Tax Reform, Center for American Progress, and Drug Policy Alliance, support this bill. In a joint organization letter in support, they wrote:
“Our federal prisons are looking more and more like old-age homes. It is inhumane, and it is unsustainable. It is a crisis that deeply affects us fiscally, and more importantly, goes to the core of who we are as Americans… This is why we supported the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program in the First Step Act, passed into law this past December. This program transfers nonviolent federal individuals in prison to home confinement if they are 60 years-old or older and have served two-thirds of their sentence. Obviously, home confinement is much cheaper for the taxpayer than housing and feeding someone in a prison. It further goes without saying that the medical care available on ‘the outside’ is incomparably better than the mediocre medical care available in prison. The problem is that the two-thirds is currently interpreted to be 2/3 of the original sentence, not 2/3 of the sentence with good time credit included… It is clear the only way to fix this is legislatively. Congress must clarify the language to show that the 2/3 calculation should include good time credit. Hence, the need for H.R. 4018, which is a technical fix that clarifies what was probably a drafting error so that these eligible elderly incarcerated individuals, who were ‘model inmates’ that followed the rules, should receive good time credit like everyone else.”
The organizations argue that this fix is needed for three reasons:
- To ensure consistency with how BOP calculates all other transfer decisions (the pilot program at question in this bill is the only transfer and release decision for which BOP doesn’t calculate good conduct time credits);
- As a matter of fairness and to maintain the compassionate purpose of this provision, since there’s no good reason for elderly men and women to lose their good time credit when they did in fact act with good behavior; and
- To save taxpayer dollars by releasing more older incarcerated individuals to home detention instead of prison.
This legislation passed the House Judiciary Committee by a 28-8 roll call vote with the support of 12 bipartisan cosponsors, including seven Democrats and five Republicans.
Of Note: Justice Dept. Inspector General Michael Horowitz reports that Bureau of Prisons (BOP) data shows that inmates age 50 and older are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. inmate population, increasing 25% from 24,857 in FY2009 to 30,962 in FY2013. Horowitz observed, “Based on BOP cost data, we estimate that the BOP spent approximately $881 million, or 19 percent of its total budget, to incarcerate aging inmates in FY 2013.”
In response to the rising nonviolent elderly imprisonment rate, Congress passed the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program in the First Step Act in December 2018. This program transfers nonviolent federal individuals in prison to home confinement if they are 60 years-old or older and have served two-thirds of their sentence. However, the language in the Second Chance Act of 2007 is “of the term of imprisonment to which the offender was sentenced.” Based on this language, when the (BOP) conducted the elderly pilot program in 2010, it calculated the 75% of the sentence as the full sentence imposed by the judge, without good time included.
When this question was reviewed by the judicial branch in 2010, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the BOP that the statute doesn’t include good time credit (as ruled in Mathison v. Davis and Izzo v. Wiley). Therefore, in light of these rulings, the BOP has concluded that it’s obligated to calculate the ⅔ requirement under the First Step Act using time sentenced without good time included.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / D-Keine)