When the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 was introduced in the United States Congress last year, Republican and Democratic senators backed the ambitious bill. Experts complimented its call for changes to mandatory minimums and solitary confinement and its proposal to thin the federal prison population.
Lost in the praise, however, was a section that would radically change how the Bureau of Prisons tries to prevent recidivism. A proposed program instructs the U.S. attorney general to establish what the bill calls a “post-sentencing risk- and needs-assessment system” for federal prisoners, which would assign inmates a low, moderate, or high score based on their likelihood of recidivism. “Dynamic risk factors”—including “indicators of progress and improvement, and of regression, including newly acquired skills, attitude, and behavior changes over time”—would determine the ratings.
In theory, a prisoner’s score could define critical elements of his or her incarceration. The language of the bill indicates that an inmate’s score will affect housing assignments, telephone and visitation privileges, and be consulted in making assignments to anti-recidivism programs like vocational training, faith-based programming, and drug- and alcohol-recovery classes. But it goes even further. The bill proposes effective sentence reductions for 30 days of successful participation in an approved anti-recidivism activity. Those low-risk inmates who are eligible for reduced sentences would receive 10-days credit for every 30 days of successful participation, while other inmates receive only 5 days credit.*