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OIG Study: Bureau of Prisons Held Thousands of Prisoners Beyond Release Dates

The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), pilloried by one Congressional study that found it was unable to follow its own compassionate release policy, and by yet another criticizing endemic overcrowding, has again been called to task for failing to release prisoners at the conclusion of their sentences. The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found 4,300 federal prisoners were kept beyond their release dates from late 2009 to 2014.

According to the study, most prisoners were held for at least an additional month, but one, Jermaine Hickman, remained in custody for an extra 13 months. Hickman received a $175,000 settlement in 2014 for the sentence computation error.

“That’s lost time I’ll never get back, lost time with my kids and family, lost time that they never get back, as well,” he said.

Untimely releases were more common when each BOP institution did its own sentence computations, and decreased after the process was consolidated at the BOP’s Designation and Sentence Computation Center (DSCC) in Grand Prairie, Texas.

According to the study, the BOP claimed “that the vast majority of non-staff error ‘untimely’ releases were due to situations that are beyond its control, such as amended sentences that result in shorter sentences than the time an inmate had already served.” The OIG found, however, “that the BOP does not always have complete information about the circumstances of untimely releases to which other entities contribute,” and the department collects no data about such circumstances that would enable it to avoid future sentence computation errors. Needless to say, the BOP, like most government agencies, feels no need to publicize its many mistakes – of which sentence computation is merely one – unless called to task by the OIG or Congress.

The study made various recommendations for improvements in the BOP’s sentence computation process, including focusing special attention on the prompt communication to DSCC of any potential sentence changes, reviewing every prisoner’s sentence at least twelve months prior to their release and reeducating staff in the use of better management procedures to more closely monitor the accuracy of sentence computations.

In conclusion, the OIG also suggested including non-BOP agencies in the process, such as U.S. Attorneys’ offices, judicial staff, the Federal Public Defenders and U.S. Probation Office. Left unaddressed by the OIG, however, is how to ensure that the BOP will work to improve its sentence computation procedures given the department’s long history of lack of transparency and, frankly, incompetence.


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