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(photo by Ron Levine)

Did you know that – largely due to the use of ‘mandatory minimum sentences’ over the past 30 years – elderly prisoners are the fastest-growing segment of the Federal Prison population? According to the Bureau of Justice, from 1999 to 2016, the number of inmates in state and federal prisons who were 55 years or older increased 280 percent! For comparison, during the same period, the number of younger adults grew by only 3 percent. As a result, the percentage of older inmates increased from 3 percent of the total prison population to 11 percent.

Prior to the First Step Act, the BOP released less than 100 people over a two-year period.

Luckily, the First Step Act has provisions to address this, which will help to allow older inmates the opportunity to be released to home and family and will also help to reduce the expenses of incarcerating aging inmates. Statistics have shown that elderly prisoners reoffend at lower rates, which helps to assure the community that they are not a danger to society. It just doesn’t make sense to have Americans pay more for the incarceration of elderly prisoners who post little or no public safety threat. 

Sadly, prior to the First Step Program, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had such narrow criteria, there were less than 100 people released over a two-year period – out of a total prison population of more than 200,000!! It is our hope that these numbers will be significantly more positive in years to come. (NOTE: There are many, many more criteria to this program than we can outline in a blog; please contact our office to discuss your particular case.)

So – what do you need to know? First, there are three general groups of inmates eligible for consideration of a reduction in sentence (RIS).

GROUP 1: “New Law” Elderly Inmate (non-medical)

  • The inmate is aged 70 or older
  • They are not serving a life sentence or a term for a crime of violence or a sex offense
  • The must not have attempted to escape or escaped from a BOP institution
  • Not – in the view of the BOP – at substantial risk of engaging in criminal conduct or endangering any person or the public if released to home detention
  • Has served 30 years or more of their term after 11/1/87

GROUP 2: Terminally ill or chronic or seriously ill (related to the aging process) inmate

  • The inmate is aged 65 or older
  • Suffers from a chronic or serious medical condition related to the aging process
  • Is experiencing deteriorating mental or physical health that substantially diminishes their ability to function in a correctional facility
  • Conventional treatment promises no substantial improvement to their mental or physical condition; and
  • Have served at least 50 percent of their sentence

GROUP 3: ‘Other’

  • The inmate is 60 or older
  • They have served either 10 years or 75 percent of their sentence, whichever is greater
  • They are not serving a life sentence or a term for a crime of violence or a sex offense
  • The must not have attempted to escape or escaped from a BOP institution
  • Not – in the view of the BOP – at substantial risk of engaging in criminal conduct or endangering any person or the public if released to home detention

As you can imagine, there is a lot of information in the First Step Act, to be sure. And, as mentioned above, there are many, many more criteria to this program than we can outline in a blog. If you have questions, or if you believe that your loved one might be eligible for relief from the court, then please reach out to us by visiting our website (www.GordonDefense.com) and scheduling a free consultation with one of our compassionate and helpful professionals.