New Bill Clarifies Early Release for Elderly Prisoners

first step act
Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., at a House Judiciary Committee hearing .(AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

A bill introduced in the House Judiciary Committee, clarifying a portion of the recently passed prison-reform bill, would mean earlier release for elderly prisoners.

A provision of the First Step Act, a prison-reform bill that passed Congress and was signed into law last year by President Donald Trump, allows non-violent federal prisoners deemed to be at low-risk of reoffending to leave prison for home detention once they have reached 60 years of age and served two-thirds of their sentence. But the statutory language, as well as a previous federal court ruling regarding a similar law, indicated that the two-thirds mandatory time served is to be calculated from the full sentence, not including time off for good behavior. For example, a prisoner sentenced to ten years, with the standard 15% time off for good behavior, would only serve eight-and-a-half years. Once he reaches 60, would he get out after serving two-thirds of ten years (six-and-two-thirds years) or two-thirds of eight-and-a-half years (five-and-two-thirds years)?

The new legislation, introduced by Judiciary Committee member Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), amends the First Step Act to make clear that the two-thirds will be calculated by including “credit toward the service of the prisoner’s sentence.”

The legislation’s co-sponsors include Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Ranking Member Doug Collins (R-Ga.); Rep. Hakeem Jefferies (N.Y.); Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.); Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.

The legislation is expected to easily pass the House after it returns from the summer recess, but its fate in the Senate is not as certain. Though the First Step Act passed both houses of Congress with large bipartisan majorities, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was reluctant to put it up for a floor vote due to opposition from some conservative senators. Hesitant to risk splitting his caucus, McConnell eventually did allow a vote following heavy lobbying from the White House.

Advocates of the new amendment are hoping to get the support of at least some of those Republicans who opposed the First Step Act, to ensure quick passage of the bill.

“This small common-sense legislation would have a substantial effect on many suffering prisoners and their families,” Rabbi Moshe Margaretten, director of the Tzedek Association and a leading prison-reform advocate, told Hamodia on Tuesday. “This is particularly crucial because it relates to the elderly, many of whom have medical issues for which prison provides subpar care. Allowing low-risk elderly prisoners earlier release, while still under home detention and the supervision of the Bureau of Prisons, would ensure that they receive proper medical care sooner, without risk to society.”

rborchardt@hamodia.com