October 23, 2008

Second Chance Act

A little known fact about federal prison is that the prisoner, in most cases, serves less than his actual sentence. I had no information about sentencing laws when I began my journey. My judge sentenced me to 18 months but it turns out that I will spend around one year in prison, give or take a month or two. Theoretically, I could have served less than six months, which I will explain.

Federal prisoners who are sentenced to terms not more than one year earn “good time” in exchange for following prison rules. Those sentenced to fewer than 12 months do not qualify for good time, yet they are released to a form of community confinement before their term expires. As an example, a judge may sentence a defendant to one year AND one day in prison. That extra day entitles the individual to earn good time while a one year prison term would not. For those inmates who qualify for good time, administrators will deduct between 47-54 days for every year the prison service without any disciplinary infractions. I qualify for 71 days of good time and my 18 month sentence was thereby shortened to 15 months and 21 days. In addition to that good time reduction, the Second Chance Act of 2007 provides for an additional decrease in confinement of up to one year, as inmates transition to serve their final portion of their sentence in a community confinement center (also known as a halfway house). Although I expect to earn the maximum amount of good time, I have no way of knowing how much halfway house time I will receive. My observations suggest that administrators will approve me for somewhere between 90-150 days halfway house placement. I wish there was a way I could earn maximum placement. This unknown element and lack of control over my own life is part of the prison struggle.

I find the prison system’s interpretation of the Second Chance Act in conflict with the intent of Congress. The stated purpose of the Second Chance Act was to help inmates prepare for successful re-entry. Rather than releasing inmates to serve their time 6 months in a halfway house, administrators refuse to grant more than 6 months to a halfway house, at the time I write this blog entry.

Halfway house time assist inmates re-enter society. They secure employment and begin earning a livable wage that allows the inmate to meet responsibilities and gain traction. I don’t know for certain how much time I will get in a halfway house but I am making every effort that I can to prepare for the challenges that await my release. Despite my disagreement with the Bureau of Prisons’ halfway house policy, my goal time and halfway house range will result in my serving significantly less than my 18 month sentence, a deal I will take that deal every day of the week.

Justin Paperny

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