Journal Entry: Douglas Jason Way-03/13/2024-THE BOTTLENECK

Journal Entry


This is a story I’ve already written on multiple occasions. Over the past several years, as I have borne witness to the dehumanizing conditions at USP/FCI Thomson and the dysfunction within the BOP, few things have troubled me more than seeing the men in the camp held long beyond the dates when they were legally entitled to be released. Suffering abuse while in BOP custody is bad, but I contend that being incarcerated when you should be in a halfway house or at home is even worse.

At Thomson and across the country, the BOP spent five years demonstrating an unwillingness and/or inability to administer the First Step and Second Chance Acts in good faith, and the result has been a crime wave. I don’t use the term “crime” lightly. It is not hyperbole to label unlawful imprisonment as what it is–a crime. I have shared the stories of these crimes with family, friends, members of Congress, and BOP administrators hoping that the root causes would be remedied so that incarcerated men and women can go home on time. That’s still not happening. I have told this story before, but I’ll tell it again.

My buddy Rob was sentenced to serve 120 months. With the application of good conduct time and federal time credit (FTC) due him under the First Step Act, his release date was May 9, 2025. Rob was also entitled to a minimum of six months of pre-release custody (halfway house or home confinement) time under the Second Chance Act, bringing his release date forward to December 9, 2024. As of March 1, 2024, he had earned an additional 340 days of FTCs to apply to home confinement, bringing his release date further forward to approximately January 1, 2024. And yet Rob is still in the camp with me in mid-March, 2024.

Rob was submitted by his case manager to the Residential Re-entry Center (RRC) near his home in Davenport, IA on January 24, 2024, with a recommendation for his release on February 23, 2024. Already late and technically a crime, but he could live with that. On March 7th, the RRC finally responded that they could not take him until September 25th because of a lack of resources. Rob’s case manager pushed back on that response and was initially told that there was space available in Wichita, Topeka, or Leavenworth, Kansas in June. Before he could wrap his head around those options, the offer was rescinded the next day. He is left with no recourse but to file an administrative remedy in the hope that he can somehow shorten the nine month term of unlawful imprisonment he is facing.

Rob has a minimum security level and a low recidivism risk score. He has a stable home to return to that was approved by the U.S. Probation Office in September, 2023, and he has a job in restaurant management waiting for him. He does not even need a bed in a halfway house. He has a viable release plan that makes him eligible to go straight to home confinement. He has done all of the preparation for release required of him, but he is stuck in prison due to the BOP’s disregard for the law.

The First Step Act states that the BOP Director “shall ensure there is sufficient pre-release custody capacity to accommodate all eligible prisoners.” This is not breaking news. The First Step Act was signed into law more than five years ago. It is inexplicable and inexcusable that the BOP is still holding people in prison beyond their legal release dates because of bureaucratic bungling.

In November, 2023, administrators from the regional office held a First Step Act focused town hall at the camp at Thomson. When asked about the RRC capacity issue, they candidly admitted that it was a major problem. They said that options are being evaluated, but gave no timeline for a solution. A Congressional hearing with Director Peters and others in January, 2024 commemorating the five year anniversary of the FSA similarly revealed no concrete plan to relieve the bottleneck.

The release of more than 13,000 men and women to home confinement under the CARES Act proved that it is an effective pathway to successful re-entry into our communities. The percentage recidivism rate for those people is in the low single digits, with the vast majority being for technical violations rather than new offenses. People like Rob who have been deemed eligible for home confinement are not a material threat to public safety.

Therefore, I respectfully call on President Biden to use his sentence commutation power to clear the bottleneck. Commuting the sentences of those already on home confinement would temporarily free up capacity to allow Rob and others to be released. The President could give the BOP the breathing room to finally solve the problem so that more people are not unlawfully held.

The BOP has options. They could add capacity by hiring in the RRCs or by creating additional outlets specializing in home confinement processing and monitoring. They could finally take advantage of an interagency agreement that was made with the U.S. Probation Office ten years ago allowing for the transfer of people on BOP pre-release custody to the USPO’s Federal Location Monitoring system which is more organized and cost-effective. To date, only 3.6% of eligible people have been transferred due to lack of initiative and red tape.

If the Department of Justice cannot permanently cure the bottleneck internally, private enterprises would likely be happy to take on the task. A division of Koch Industries has been making large investments in the development of electronic monitoring equipment. Adding manpower to do the monitoring is a natural extension of their hardware offerings.

If thousands of people were being kidnapped from America’s communities, there would be a public outcry to address the crime wave. The unlawful imprisonment of thousands of adults who have earned their freedom should be equally unacceptable. This is a big problem, but it can be remediated and permanently solved. It is simply a matter of will to do so.

I didn’t want to have to write this story again, but seeing Rob here in the camp instead of home where he belongs motivated me to once again use my voice. The denial of his liberty should trouble every American and motivate those in authority as much as it does me.