Explainer: The BOP FSA Time Credits Auto-Calculator
The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has its First Step Act (FSA) time credits auto-calculator up and running. Sort of. Last month, Collette S. Peters, the new BOP Director, said that the agency completed its FSA time credits auto-calculator in August and that the auto-calculator has been up and running since then.
According to reporting by Walter Pavlo for Forbes, however, the BOP’s own computer system puts that date in the middle of October. “As of October 11, the auto-calculation application is operating as intended following the resolution several glitches identified after its initial deployment on August 31,” the BOP reportedly states on its new computer system. “At this time, every eligible inmate has had their First Step Act (FSA) Federal Time Credits (FTC) accurately calculated.”
For anyone who has been trying to get FSA time credits for themselves or for a loved one, of course, we know this isn’t true. As Pavlo explains, countless people in BOP custody haven’t received the amount of time credits they believe they’ve earned. And, in some cases, they haven’t received any at all.
In fact, according to Pavlo, some BOP case managers don’t even know about the computer system still. “That is news to me,” one case manager said when Pavlo told her about the FSA time credits auto-calculator used by the BOP. “[N]ow I’ve got inmates lined up outside my door asking me about a calculation that I know nothing about.” Bluntly, she said, “I don’t know what to tell them.”
What can you do to make sure the BOP auto-calculator counts your FSA time credits correctly?
If you believe that the BOP auto-calculator didn’t correctly calculate your or your loved one’s FSA time credits, you have a couple of options — but neither of them are good ones.
First, you can try to resolve the problem informally. Sometimes this works. As Pavlo points out in his article, the BOP has made a ton of mistakes when it comes to calculating FSA time credits. In some circumstances, they’ve even tried to bring someone back to prison based on the their auto-calculator’s (supposedly “accurately calculated”) determination. But some BOP officials have fixed those errors.
If that doesn’t work or you don’t want to pursue informal resolution, you’re left with going through the BOP’s tedious administrative grievance process and then turning to a habeas petition in federal court. But you’re rolling the dice when you do that too. As Peter Tomasek has explained in several articles for Interrogating Justice, whether a court will fix an incorrect calculation of FSA time credits depends almost entirely on the judge or magistrate judge your case happens to land in front of.
The BOP says that its FSA time credits auto-calculator is up and running. That might be true. But incarcerated people, their loved ones and even some BOP staff have no idea how it works or whether the calculations it is making are accurate. As a result, incarcerated people either get lucky by asking BOP staff for help or find themselves stuck, going through the grievance process before filing a habeas petition in court.