Tag Archives: elderly offender home detention

Congress Lurching Toward Easing Compassionate, Elderly Offender Release? – Update for June 29, 2020

We post news and comment on federal criminal justice issues, focused primarily on trial and post-conviction matters, legislative initiatives, and sentencing issues.


corona200313Last week’s upsurge in COVID-19 cases nationally has begun to translate to an increase in Federal Bureau of Prisons inmates with coronavirus. A number that had dwindled last week to 1,256 by last Thursday shot back up to 1,429 as of last night. The inmate death count is 93, with COVID-19 present on 71 prison compounds throughout the BOP system (57% of all facilities).

As of yesterday, the BOP had tested 21,400 inmates, up about 12% from last week. The Bureau is still showing about 30% of inmates tested as positive for COVID-19, and it has only tested about now out of six inmates.

The noteworthy developments in COVID-19 last week, however, were not viral, but rather legislative and medical.

Legislative: Senators Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), principal authors of the First Step Act, last week jointly introduced S.4034, bipartisan legislation to reform the Elderly Offender Home Detention (EOHD) Program and compassionate release.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)
                  Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)

EOHD, authorized by First Step as part of 34 USC § 60541(g), permits the BOP to place prisoners who are 60 years old or older, convicted of non-violent offenses, and with good conduct in home detention for the remainder of their sentences. Compassionate release, expanded by First Step, permits a court to reduce a prisoner’s sentence for extraordinary and compelling reasons, pursuant to 18 USC § 3582(c)(1).

S.4034, dubbed the COVID-19 Safer Detention Act, would reform the EOHD and compassionate release by:

• Clarifying that the percentage of time an inmate needs to qualify for EOHD should calculated based on an inmate’s net sentence, including reductions for good time. Currently, the BOP charily calculates it as two-thirds of the total sentence, not two-thirds of the 85% of the sentence the inmate actually serves. This change has already passed the House by voice vote in HR 4018, which las been languishing in the Senate since last Christmas;

• Cutting the percentage of time an inmate must serve to qualify for  EOHD from two-thirds of the sentence to one-half;

• Making “old law” federal prisoners (those convicted prior to 1988) eligible for compassionate release;

• Making DC offenders housed in BOP facilities eligible for EOHD;

• Making denial of EOHD release subject to court review; and

• Providing that during the pandemic, COVID-19 vulnerability is deemed a basis for compassionate release, a statutory change that would prevent the government from trying to convince courts (and some have been convinced) that the pandemic is hardly extraordinary; and

• Shortening the period prisoners must wait for judicial review for elderly home detention and compassionate release from 30 to 10 days. Currently, there is no judicial review of a BOP denial of EOHD, and inmates must ask the BOP to file for compassionate release on their behalf, and wait 30 days for an answer before filing themselves.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois)
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois)

It is unclear whether the bill will pass, but sponsorship by a Democrat and Republican increases its odds. Hamodia reported that the bill “will likely be attached it to another bill, such as a stimulus bill or the police-reform bill currently being crafted by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.)”

Medical: The other COVID-19 major development last week was medical. Last Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta released updated COVID-19 guidelines to adjust the ages and expand the health problems that could make people more likely to have severe complications. The move comes amid the rising number of younger patients and new studies that show the effects of certain conditions.

The new CDC guidelines are crucial for prisoners, because courts determine whether movants for compassionate release qualify according to whether the inmates have one or more of the CDC risk factors.

First, the CDC walked back the “65 and over” risk factor, which many judges have interpreted as being a hard number, denying any health-concern consideration for a 64-year old but treating a 66-year old prisoner as knocking on death’s door.

death200330Instead, CDC highlights that all ages could catch the coronavirus but effects of the infection may get worse as people get older. “There’s not an exact cutoff of age at which people should or should not be concerned,” Jay Butler, the CDC’s deputy director of infectious diseases, said in a news briefing.

Of more relevance to prisoners, the CDC has found that risks associated with obesity start at a much lower level. The CDC had held that only the morbidly obese (body mass index of 42+) were at risk. Now, the CDC says anyone with a BMI of 30 or more is at risk.

Under the old standard, a 50-year old 6-foot tall man would have to weigh 310 lbs. to be at risk. Now, the same guy only has to tip the scales at 225 lbs. to exceed a 30 BMI.

Other conditions CDC identified as elevating COVID-19 risk included chronic kidney disease, COPD, weaker immune system due to organ transplant, heart conditions, sickle cell disease, type 1 and 2 diabetes, asthma, dementia, cerebrovascular diseases, cystic fibrosis, high blood pressure, liver disease, pulmonary fibrosis, and an inherited blood disorder known as thalassemia. The CDC also added pregnancy to the list.

A number of inmates have been denied compassionate release because judges decided their risk factors – such as hypertension and dementia – did not match the risk factors on the prior CDC list. There is no statutory limitation to the number of times an inmate may file for compassionate release (other than the judge’s ire, perhaps), meaning that the changing COVID-19 risk landscape offers prisoners a new shot at release.

COVID-19 Tracker: The Marshall Project is running a state-by-state COVID-19 prison tracker website, which includes “Federal” as a category. The site charts total cases, inmates and staff currently sick, deaths, and new cases by date.

S.4034, COVID-19 Safer Detention Act (introduced June 22, 2020)

Hamodia, New Senate Legislation Expands Early Release (June 23)

CDC, People of Any Age with Underlying Medical Conditions (June 25, 2020)

Medical Daily, CDC Updates Guidelines On Coronavirus Risk Factors (June 26)

The Marshall Project, A State-by-State Look at Coronavirus in Prisons (June 25)

– Thomas L. Root

BOP Directed to Send Some Boomers Home – Update for March 27, 2020

We post news and comment on federal criminal justice issues, focused primarily on trial and post-conviction matters, legislative initiatives, and sentencing issues.


Attorney General William Barr moved yesterday to release some federal inmates at heightened risk from the coronavirus, but he said no one would be freed immediately under the policy because of the need to make sure prisoners are not spreading the virus into the community.

corona200313Barr told the BOP in a memo to prioritize granting home confinement to inmates who were convicted of lower level crimes, have shown good conduct behind bars and have plans for release that won’t put them and others at greater risk for contracting the virus.

“We don’t want our institutions to become petri dishes,” Mr. Barr said at an unrelated news conference. “We have the protocols that are designed to stop that. One of those tools will be identifying vulnerable prisoners who would make more sense to allow to go home to finish their confinement.”

The attorney general said he asked BOP officials last week about protecting vulnerable inmates and lowering the chances of a serious outbreak by lowering prison populations.

“I asked if it was possible to expand home confinement, particularly for those older prisoners who have served substantial parts of their sentences and no longer pose a threat and may have underlying conditions that make them particularly vulnerable,” Barr said.

Barr told prison officials to give priority to inmates held in low and minimum security facilities; to those who haven’t been involved in violence or gang activities; and to those with low PATTERN scores. Those convicted of serious offenses, including sex crimes won’t be eligible, Barr said.

Barr’s guidance overlaps with a provision in the relief bill the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass TODAY, which lets the BOP shift federal inmates into home confinement sooner. Under 18 USC § 3624(c) as currently written, home confinement is capped at six months or 10% of a sentence, whichever is shorter. The bill removes that limit during the pandemic. The moves come as prisons are detecting more cases of the deadly virus.

release160523As of Thursday morning, Barr said six federal inmates and four staffers had tested positive for the virus, prompting the lockdown of several facilities, including ones in New York City, Atlanta and Louisiana. Barr said he’s getting reports of additional cases as well, but didn’t have the details.

As of yesterday’s 3 pm BOP update, the number had climbed to 10 inmates and eight staff, at MDC Brooklyn, MCC New York, USP Atlanta, FCI Oakdale and in halfway houses in Phoenix and Brooklyn. Staff have tested positive at Butner, NC; Ray Brook, NY; New York City; Danbury, CT; Yazoo City, MS; Leavenworth, KS; Atlanta, GA; and Grand Prairie, TX.

Criminal justice experts welcomed the idea of releasing more inmates to home confinement, but hoped the BOP would break its track record of granting release or home confinement in fewer cases than it could. Kyle O’Dowd, associate executive director of policy for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, told Law360 that while the law and the memo are steps in the right direction, it remains to be seen how the BOP will carry them out.

“My concern is that it won’t be implemented as robustly as it needs to be. There is a history of BOP being pretty conservative in their application of authorities they already have,” O’Dowd said.

Any prisoners moved out of federal facilities as part of the effort would be held in quarantine within the prison for 14 days before release to make sure they are not infectious, Barr’s memo said. Those convicted of sex offenses would not be considered for release, and those serving time for “serious offenses“ would have less chance of getting out, the directive said.

In some cases, vulnerable prisoners might be at less risk in jail than they would be at home, Barr argued. “Many inmates will be safer in BOP facilities where the population is controlled and there is ready access to doctors and medical care,“ he wrote.

Ohio State University law professor Doug Berman wrote in his Sentencing Law and Policy blog that

[e]ven assuming that only a very small percentage of prisoners, say, only 1 out of every 15 current federal prisoners, meet the home confinement criteria, that would still mean that well over 11,000 federal prisoners would be eligible to head home to serve out the rest of their sentences. Because BOP has a well-earn reputation for being unwilling or unable to help prisoners get out of federal facilities early, I am not so confident that we will soon be seeing thousands of federal prisoners heading home. But the directive from AG Barr now would seem to make that more of a possibility.

Politico, Feds may send some prisoners home due to virus risk (Mar. 26, 2020)

Wall Street Journal, Barr Tells Federal Prisons to Increase Use of Home Confinement, Fearing Spread of Coronavirus (Mar. 26, 2020)

Law360.com, Federal Prisons Can Send More Inmates Home. Will They? (Mar. 26)

Sentencing Law and Policy, Will thousands of federal prisoners be eligible for home confinement under AG Barr’s new guidelines? (Mar. 26)

– Thomas L. Root

First Step Act Turns a Year Old – Update for December 26, 2019

We post news and comment on federal criminal justice issues, focused primarily on trial and post-conviction matters, legislative initiatives, and sentencing issues.


firststepB180814A year ago last Saturday, President Trump signed the First Step Act. A year later, I wish it was benefiting as many people in the system as hoped for by its proponents:

First Step was intended to be just that, a first step. Follow-on legislation, S.697 (dubbed The Next Step Act), will improve prospects for job placement when people are released, is tied up in House and Senate subcommittees. With the 2020 presidential election season starting in two weeks, there is virtually no likelihood (Skopos Labs, the company that handicaps Congressional bills, gives it a 4% chance) that it will pass next year.

First Step expanded the elderly offender home detention program enshrined in 34 USC § 60541(g)(5). This permits people over 60 years old who are nonviolent offenders to serve that last third of their sentences in home confinement. The rub is that the “two-thirds” referred to in the measure means two-thirds of the whole sentence. With good conduct time credits, a prisoner now serves only 85% of his or her sentence. It appears that no one thought carefully about it, because H.R.4018 was introduced this year to clarify things by permitting elderly offenders to go home at two-thirds of their net sentence (time to be served minus good time) instead of two-thirds of their total sentence. The measure passed the House by voice vote in October. Last week, the bill was put on the Senate Calendar of Business under general orders (the Calendar is a list of all measures, sequenced by order number, that are eligible for Senate floor consideration). Nevertheless, Skopos Labs gives the bill only an 8% chance of passage in 2020.

fairchancebanbox190906• Last week, Congress passed and the President signed the Fair Chance Act, which started life as HR 1076, but was later tucked into a massive defense spending. The bill bars the federal government and its contractors from asking about the criminal history of a job applicant prior to the extension of a conditional offer of employment.

• The Bureau of Prisons reports that so far, over 2,400 Fair Sentencing Act reductions have been granted (reducing prison time by 14,250 years), 380 elderly offender home confinement placements have been approved, 117 compassionate releases have been granted, and more than 1,700 new volunteers have been OK’d to work in institutions.

• Meanwhile, the BOP reported that Fiscal Year 2018 “cost of incarceration fee” per inmate was about $37,500 a year, which works out to about $102 a day. Multiplying this number by the FSA reduction of 14,250 years of prison time suggests that First Step’s crack retroactivity provision of has saved taxpayers around over $500 million.

• We have yet to see whether the PATTERN risk and needs analysis, proposed by the Dept. of Justice with great fanfare last July, and programming that earns prisoners additional time off sentences and in reentry programs will work as legislators hoped. Early reports have the Bureau of Prisons telling many more prisoners they are ineligible than anticipated by the bill, and warning that program credits may not be awarded for several years. Those reports – mostly from inmates and, while not confirmed, seem consistent across the system – are not encouraging.

money160118• Finally, The Sentencing Project reports that First Step’s authorization of $75 million per year – about $400 per prisoner – “falls far short of what is necessary to address the rehabilitative needs of people in prison. In July, the DOJ released data that dramatically highlighted the deficit in federal prison programming. Among the 223,000 people released from BOP custody from 2009 to 2015, 49% had not completed any programming while in custody and 57% of people in need of drug treatment had received no services.”

Reuters, Congress poised to pass bill lowering barriers to work for ex-offenders (Dec. 17)

Sentencing Project, One Year After the First Step Act: Mixed Outcomes (Dec. 17)

– Thomas L. Root

The Prisoners Envy The Turkeys… – Update for November 26, 2019

We post news and comment on federal criminal justice issues, focused primarily on trial and post-conviction matters, legislative initiatives, and sentencing issues.


At some point in the next 48 hours, President Trump will likely pardon a pair of turkeys. The turkeys will be given silly names (past recipients have included birds named Mac and Cheese), some children and White House staffers will look on, and there will be forced jokes and stiff laughter.

turkey181128“It’s painful to watch,” Minnesota law professor Mark Osler wrote in the Washington Post last week. “Worse, it mocks the raw truth that the federal clemency system is completely broken. While those two turkeys receive their pardons, nearly 14,000 clemency petitions sit in a sludgy backlog. Many of the federal inmates who have followed the rules, assembled documents, poured out their hearts in petitions and worked hours at a prison job just to pay for the stamps on the envelope have waited for years in that queue.”

Osler and the students in his law school clinic have helped people file clemency petitions for almost a decade. “Many of them are well-deserving,” Osler wrote. “It was rewarding to tell their stories of rehabilitation and hope… [But now,] most of my mail is from people who have already filed a petition. They want to know what is happening, and what else they can do. Too many of them have unrealistic plans — often, and very specifically, the plan is that Kim Kardashian West will help them. Or, as one man put it ‘I’ll take any Kardashian.’ It is true that Kardashian West advocated for Alice Marie Johnson, and that Johnson did get clemency from President Trump. But that is a sample size of precisely one, while thousands wait.”

Meanwhile, a government pleading in a compassionate release motion filed under 18 USC 3582(c)(1)(A)(i) last week provided an object lesson for people seeking to get a sentence cut or home confinement because of illness. Federal prosecutors argued that a claim of dementia filed by Bernie Ebbers, former CEO of Worldcom, was bogus.

The government argued that the 78-year-old Ebbers may not be in as bad shape as indicated in his own filings, citing a note from a prison psychologist who listened in on phone calls between the inmate and his daughter in recent weeks. The daughter has claimed in an affidavit that her father has dementia.


“In the calls, he was alert, aware and oriented to person, place, time and situation,” a Bureau of Prisons psychologist is quoted as saying, adding that the inmate was asking about his daughter’s efforts to get him out of prison. The psychologist notes that the inmate has presented a much different persona when he knows he is being observed. “The conversations between him and his daughter were very different than how he presented to this writer during our last encounter on 10/11/19 when he presented to this writer as though he didn’t know he was in a prison nor the date and time,” the psychologist writes.

Remember inmates, the BOP knows more about you than you may think. And what the BOP knows, the government knows, which means the U.S. Attorney knows it too. Rather tautological, but very true.

Many inmates eligible for serving the last one-third of their sentences under the Elderly Home Detention Offender program have complained that their case managers will not even submit an application for them to be a part of the program until they qualify by reaching the two-thirds mark of their sentences. Approval may take six months, meaning that an elderly offender may well miss much of the time he or she could be on home confinement, and the BOP continues to spend $100 a day to house someone who could be confined at home on his or her own dime.

Last week, a reliable inmate correspondent reported that his case manager  said BOP Central Office had issued “new guidance” that Elderly Offender Home Detention packages should be prepared and submitted six months prior to the inmate’s eligibility for the program (age 60 and two-thirds of total sentence completed). This way, he reported his case manager reported, everything will be in place so that the prisoner can leave for home detention on his or her earliest eligibility date.

I have not been able to confirm the report through the BOP yet.

Osler, Let’s Pardon Prisoners, Not Turkeys, Washington Post (Nov. 21)

CNBC, NY prosecutors suggest former WorldCom CEO is faking illness to get out of jail (Nov. 19)

– Thomas L. Root

Justice Dept. Picks First Step Foe to Spearhead Recidivism Risk Standard Adoption – Update for April 15, 2019

We post news and comment on federal criminal justice issues, focused primarily on trial and post-conviction matters, legislative initiatives, and sentencing issues.


As we observed last Tuesday, the Dept. of Justice has announced that it had appointed the Hudson Institute, a right-of-center think tank best known for its national security work, to design a risk-assessment tool that must be in place before prisoners can receive earned-time credit for completing BOP programs designed to reduce recidivism.


The appointment, required by the First Step Act to be in place by Jan. 21, was only 78 days late.

First Step requires that a prisoner’s risk of recidivism (different from security and custody levels) be assessed before he or she starts programming. The risk can go up or down, depending on the inmate’s progress. The lower a prisoner’s risk, the more credit that can be earned.

However, the Act does not specify how a person’s recidivism risk level should be calculated. Instead, it instructs the attorney general to consult with an “independent review committee” to design the system.

DOJ said that Hudson Institute will host the independent review committee. Hudson has the discretion to appoint committee members, who will work to advise on the shape of the final risk-adjustment tool.

henhouse180307Some lawmakers from both parties who backed First Step Act expressed concern late last week at Hudson’s appointment. “I’m a little bit worried that we just let a fox in the chicken coop here,” Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) said during a confirmation hearing last week. “This… think tank… published an article entitled, ‘Why Trump Should Oppose Criminal-Justice Reform…’ [and has] now been chosen by the Department of Justice and Trump administration to be part of this so-called independent review system.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) described the institute as an “opponent of the First Step Act… I don’t see a lot of good faith in implementing this law right now,” Lee said. “And it’s become increasingly clear to me in the last few days that some Department of Justice officials at least don’t like the First Step Act, and they seem not to care that Congress passed this law and that President Trump signed this into law.”

The Hudson Institute, founded in 1961, is known for its work on national security and foreign policy, though it also focuses on economics and domestic policy. For the First Step Act, it has announced six committee members so far who will develop the risk assessment program, one of whom is Hudson’s chief operating officer, John Walters.

Walters once wrote that it was a “great urban myth” that the country was imprisoning too many people for drug possession and that the 100:1 crack-to-powder cocaine disparity was merely a “perceived,” not a real, racial injustice. In 2015, Walters wrote that the concept of “mass incarceration” was a myth, and that “the great majority of federal prisoners appear to be incarcerated because they were, properly, adjudged guilty and justly sentenced.”

release160523The New York Times reported last Tuesday that First Step’s retroactive application of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act has already “prompt[ed] 800 sentencing reductions already, according to the Justice Department. Of that group, nearly 650 inmates have been released from prison. Another 22 inmates have received sentencing reductions under a compassionate release program that is part of the law.” It reported last Saturday that since First Step was passed, 10 prisoners of 23 that have so far been deemed eligible have been released under the First Step’s Elderly Offender Home Detention (EOHD) program.

Testifying last Tuesday before the Appropriations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, Attorney General William Barr promised “to robustly fund and diligently implement [First Step] at the Department.”

If you want to know where the real headwinds to First Step will come from, look no further that last Saturday’s Times. It’s one thing to support criminal justice reform in the abstract. But when it comes to individuals, the Gray Lady makes it clear that her anti-felon “lock-’em-up” biases are every bit as finely honed as Sen. Tom Cotton’s ever were.

unforgivenfelon190415The newspaper breathlessly reported on one inmate released under EOHD: “The First Step Act offered prisoner rehabilitation programs and overhauled sentencing policies that supporters claimed had a disproportionate effect on poor defendants, especially minorities. But one person who benefited from the law was Hassan Nemazee, who was once an investor of enormous wealth and who donated heavily to Democratic political causes.” The Times reported that “Mr. Nemazee was charged in 2009 with orchestrating a scheme that defrauded banks of nearly $300 million,” and it complained that home detention “feels a lot like freedom.”

Once the media start picking at the offenses for which inmates who benefit from First Step were convicted, public outrage will not be far behind.

Washington Free Beacon, “DOJ Taps Conservative Think Tank to Help Implement FIRST STEP Act” (Apr. 8)

Mother Jones, Trump Keeps Celebrating Prison Reform. His Administration’s Latest Move Could Sabotage It (Apr. 11)

New York Times, Justice Dept. Works on Applying Sentencing Law as Critics Point to Delays (Apr. 8)

New York Times, He Committed a $300 Million Fraud, but Left Prison Under Trump’s Justice Overhaul (Apr. 13)

– Thomas L. Root

Nuts and Bolts of Elderly Home Detention – Update for January 9, 2019

We post news and comment on federal criminal justice issues, focused primarily on trial and post-conviction matters, legislative initiatives, and sentencing issues.


There seems to be a lot of confusion about the Elderly Offender Home Detention program approved by the First Step Act, judging from the questions still piling up in our email.

elderly190109• Where did EOHD come from? Back in 2009, the Second Chance Act of 2007 authorized the BOP to run a two-year pilot program to permit non-violent elderly offenders (65 years and older) to go to home confinement for the remainder of their sentences if they had been down 10 years and done 75% of their sentences. The program was tested at only one facility (FCI Elkton) for a two-year period.

It did not work that well, because the combination 10-year minimum and 75% seemed to eliminate just about everyone who otherwise would otherwise had been eligible.

• What is it now? The First Step Act has now re-established the program, calling it the Elderly Offender Home Detention program. The new EOHD would apply ay every BOP facility – not just one – and be extended to all nonviolent elderly offenders who had completed 66.67% (no longer 75%) of their sentences. The 10-year minimum service of sentence was eliminated.

Under the program, an eligible inmate could go to home confinement at 66.67% of the whole sentence, and be released from home confinement to supervised release at 85% of his or her sentence.

home190109• What are the requirements? Most of the requirements have not changed from the pilot program. Anyone seriously thinking about applying for EOHD should read 34 USC 60541(g). Among other requirements, the eligible offender has to be 60 years old or older, cannot ever have been convicted of a crime of violence or sex offense, have served 66.67% of “the term of imprisonment to which the offender was sentenced,” have never tried to escape, whose home detention will save the BOP money, and who the BOP determines “to be at no substantial risk of engaging in criminal conduct or of endangering any person or the public if released to home detention.”

• It is 66.67% of what? Our reading of the statute suggests that the two-thirds must be of the whole sentence, not the sentence minus good-time, or minus earned time credits, or even minus RDAP. In fact, RDAP would have to be restructured to let eligible elderly offenders take it early in order to get any meaningful EOHD time.

• Can the BOP adopt other rules on how to run EOHD? We suspect that the BOP will treat it like it treats direct-to-home detention now. The inmate has to have a home that passes US Probation Office inspection, have the landline phone rig needed for monitoring, and have health insurance. The BOP has a lot of leeway in administering the program, and not everyone who is eligible will necessarily be permitted to go home.

When the BOP ran the program at Elkton, there was no program statement, because the program was pretty ad hoc and loosey-goosey. The BOP will probably issue a program statement now, detailing how it intends to administer the program.

One final caveat: the EOHD will not necessarily be available at all institutions. The Attorney General retains the authority to designate only certain institutions at which the EOHD will operate. However, if only somer and not others are designated, it will usher in a land-rush of inmates seeking to get to certain prisons and not others in order to benefit from the Act. If too few institutions are designated, Congress may be irate that the BOP is not using a tool available to it to reduce its costs, especially the horrific cost of elderly medical and nursing care.

denied190109I have already heard of one institution where a case manager confidently told an inmate that the warden would never approve any EOHD participants. The BOP will have a lot of discretion as to how it runs EOHD, but it will not have the discretion to NOT run it.

One benefit inmates have with EOHD may be judicial review. Under 18 USC 3625, virtually all of the BOP’s programs – halfway house, the anti-recidivism programming and placement, for example – are immune from the usual Administrative Procedure Act lawsuits an inmate could otherwise bring under 5 USC 706. However, the EOHD is authorized by a different section – in Title 34 – and appears to be subject to APA challenge if the BOP gets too arbitrary or deviates too far from the statute. That ought to give inmates a bit more leverage than they have with other BOP actions.

Elderly Offender Home Detention, 34 USC 60541(g) (as amended by the First Step Act)

– Thomas L. Root

Reading First Step A Little More Carefully – Update for January 3, 2019

We post news and comment on federal criminal justice issues, focused primarily on trial and post-conviction matters, legislative initiatives, and sentencing issues.


software_easter_eggIn computer software and media, an Easter egg is an intentional inside joke, hidden message or image, or secret feature of a work. It is usually found in a computer program or video game.

The First Step Act text raced through the Senate and House, and was signed by the President, in four days. It was difficult to be sure that the available version of the Act – and there had been at least three even before the Senate passed a fourth on Dec. 18 – was the latest.

The final version has a few tweaks, previously unnoticed revisions and poorly-drafted parts that were finally noticed last week. Some are confusing, a few are interesting, but others are  rather ugly.

The good: It has always been gospel for people seeking reductions in sentence under 18 USC 3582(c)(2) because of the changed drug tables that Guidelines career offenders and people with 851 enhancements were blocked from the benefits of the reductions. Guidelines career offenders have their offense levels set on a scale of 12 up to 3, depending on the statutory maximum sentence of the underlying offense. A change in drug quantity Guidelines did not affect the stat maximum, so career offenders’ offense levels did not change.

retro160110The retroactivity of the Fair Sentencing Act – part of First Step – changes the statutory maximum. It used to be that 5 grams of crack got you 5 to 40 years. Now, anything under 28 grams is 0-20 years. More than 50 grams got you 10-life; now 50 grams is 5-40, and 10-life only starts after 280 grams. The effect for a lot of guys, who were convicted of “at least 5 grams” or “at least 50 grams,” is to drop the statutory maximums, and therefore reduce their career offender ranges from 37 to 34 or 34 to 32.

Because the retroactivity of the Fair Sentencing Act requires that a court “impose a reduced sentence as if… the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010… [was] in effect at the time the covered offense was committed,” it appears that Guidelines career offenders with the right numbers in their indictments may be entitled to lower sentences, as well as the straight USSG 2D1.1 crack guidelines people.

The same stepdown from 21 USC 841(b)(1)(A) to (b)(1)(B), and from (b)(1)(B) to (b)(1)(C) may well let people with 851 enhancements get lower sentences as well.

narrow190103That’s a great gift. But not so great is language in First Step Sec. 102(b)(2) that suggests that the extra seven days a year does not have to be applied by BOP until late July 2019, when the Attorney General is required to have a risk assessment program adopted. The interpretation of the subsection is capable of being interpreted to applying only to earned-time credits, but the BOP has a history of interpreting statutory language to the inmates’ detriment (see the 2010 Supreme Court Barber v. Thomas decision).

Perhaps even worse is the apparent squishiness of the Elderly Offender Home Detention program. People who think the EOHD is a brand new bauble are mistaken: First Step is not writing on a clean slate.

The definition of “elderly offender,” unchanged (except for dropping the age requirement to 60), has been around since 2008 in The Second Chance Act. Second Chance authorized an EOHD pilot program of two years’ duration, run at a single institution. The terms are set out at 34 USC 60541(g), and should be reviewed by any inmate interested in the program.

The parts of the definition of an “eligible elderly offender” which were not changed by First Step give the BOP a lot of discretion. For example, if the BOP does not “determine that release to home detention… will result in a substantial net reduction of costs to the Federal Government,” the prisoner would be deemed ineligible. 34 USC 60541(g)(5)(A)(vi). This could exclude some people at the younger end of the age range who are especially skilled at a UNICOR job or some other maintenance position valued by the particular institution.

ripper190103Likewise, to be eligible, an offender must be “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.” 34 USC 60541(g)(5)(A)(vii). This criterion makes perfect sense in a perfect world: who wants Jack D. Ripper to return to the house next door?  But in the real world, this provision grants the BOP virtually unbridled discretion. If it predicts that a drug defendant has a substantial risk of peddling some more pot, or a fraudster will likely run a three-card monte game from his front porch, what judge would ever rule otherwise? What the subsection really says is that the BOP can send who its lower-level staff want to send and deny those who staff want to deny.

 Parenthetically, I witnessed the operation of the 2-year pilot program, run at FCI Elkton in Lisbon, Ohio. In one memorable denial, a 79-year old man, 10 years into a 15-year marijuana sentence – who had had multiple strokes, suffered from heart disease and hearing loss, and had gone through multiple chemotherapy treatments for unrelated cancer, was denied the pilot EOHD program because of violence in his criminal history. It seemed that in 1949, as a hot-blooded youth, he had robbed a corner grocery store.

“You’re a danger,” the Elkton case manager told the minimum-security septuagenarian, “based on your robbery conviction” more than a half-century before. And that was that.

The BOP did not release a guiding program statement for the Elkton EOHD experiment, just a one-page release for prisoners. One can only hope for more detail, more consistency, and more common sense from the full-blown EOHD.

Enrolled Bill, First Step Act of 2018 (Dec. 21)

BOP, Elderly Offender Home Detention Pilot Program (Feb. 5, 2009)

– Thomas L. Root

Inmate Celebs Jump on First Step Act – Update for January 2, 2019

We post news and comment on federal criminal justice issues, focused primarily on trial and post-conviction matters, legislative initiatives, and sentencing issues.


A few connected people did not let the ink dry on President Trump’s signature before deploying their lawyers to make hay out of the First Step Act’s modification to the compassionate release provisions of 18 USC § 3582(c)(1).

whoknows190102On the last Friday of 2018, a federal judge reduced former Birmingham, Alabama, mayor Larry Langford’s sentence for corruption to time served, a day after Ebony magazine reported that he was near death and being denied release. He had served a little more than half of a 15-year sentence for bribery and corruption, but the family and friends in Congress were able to convince the U.S. Attorney and BOP to move for his compassionate release.

U.S. District Court Judge Scott Coogler ordered that Langford “shall be released from the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons as soon as his medical condition permits, the release plan is implemented, and travel arrangements can be made.”

iknowyou190102Meanwhile, lawyers for Annette Bongiorno, Bernie Madoff’s former secretary, raced into court a day after First Step became law to ask her judge to order the BOP to send her to home confinement on March 19, the day on which she will have served two-thirds of her sentence. Not content to have the BOP process her Elderly Offender Home Detention program request (probably a wise idea), her lawyers want Judge Laura Taylor Swain – who is already on record favoring Bongiorno’s home confinement – to tell the BOP to get it done.

The government has not yet weighed in on Bongiorno’s request, which was picked up in the national media as soon as it was filed (no doubt because the defendant’s lawyers made sure of the publicity.)

The Birmingham News, Larry Langford will be freed after sentence reduction (Dec. 28)

ABC News, Bernie Madoff’s secretary wants to use new Trump law to get out of jail early (Dec. 25)

United States v. Bongiorno, Case No. 10-cr-228, Letter Motion (Dec. 22)

– Thomas L. Root