What to do to Begin to Reduce Your Sentence Immediately Upon Your Surrender

The first thought all inmates have when entering prison is how they can spend the shortest amount of time behind bars and away from their loved ones as possible. And while there is very little that can be done to directly change the judge’s sentence, there are things that can be done once inside prison that can significantly speed up an inmate’s release date, but to take advantage of these policies, it is essential to quickly consult a knowledgeable professional.

One of the provisions of the First Step Act set up an “Earned Time Credit System” which allows eligible federal prisoners to earn credits for good behavior, participation in educational and vocational programs, and other activities. These credits can be used to reduce their sentences and increase their chances of early release.

The earned time credit system is designed to incentivize prisoners to participate in programs that can help them successfully reintegrate into society after their release. The system also aims to reduce recidivism rates by providing prisoners with opportunities to learn new skills and prepare for life outside of prison.

In addition to educational and vocational programs, other activities that can earn prisoners earned time credits include:

· Participation in mental health and substance abuse treatment programs

· Participation in faith-based programs

· Participation in community service projects

· Participation in reentry planning programs

Knowing what programs are available is important, but most important is knowing where to begin earning time off a sentence. The Bureau of Prisons does not simply “give” inmates these credits, it is up to the inmate to actively seek out these programs, ensure they are receiving the documented time credits, and to stay on top of how much they have earned.

To that end, there are certain procedures which must be followed, including taking the “Needs Assessment Survey” immediately upon entering prison. Doing this right away starts the clock for reducing your sentence. An example of the assessment is attached so you can see what it looks like and what is needed to complete it.

I cannot stress enough how important it is that inmates and their families are aware of everything that is available to them and what must be done to get out of custody as quickly as possible, and into a more comfortable setting, such as home confinement or a halfway house. 

That’s why an experienced and knowledgeable Federal Prison Advisor is so important. It is our job to help inmates and their families navigate the incredibly complex federal prison system which can be overwhelming at times.

If you or your loved one has any questions about how they can take advantage of the policies created by the First Step Act, please do not hesitate to get in touch, and we will see how we can help!


Sam Mangel
Member: American Bar Association