With the First Step Act and Compassionate Release, people in federal prison have more reason than ever to build records of “compelling and extraordinary” accomplishments.

The First Step Act and Compassionate Release


In 2018, President Trump signed prison-reform legislation into law. That First Step Act opened many opportunities for people in federal prison. Among many other features, the First Step Act authorizes people serving federal sentences to petition both the Bureau of Prisons and the judge that imposed sentence to consider early release. For that reason, I consider the First Step Act to be the most significant prison-reform legislation since 1987.

Compassionate Release


Historically, the Bureau of Prisons would only grant compassionate release in the rarest of circumstances. For decades, the law authorized the Director of the Bureau of Prisons to grant compassionate release to people in federal prison. If a person in prison suffered from a terminal illness, the possibility existed that the Bureau of Prisons would support a motion for compassionate release. A person in prison did not have the standing to ask a court for compassionate release. If the Bureau of Prisons refused to ask a Court for compassionate release, the person in prison did not have any standing to move the court on his or her own behalf.

Filing a motion pursuant to The First Step Act and Compassionate Release:


With the First Step Act, people do not have to wait for the Bureau of Prisons to assess whether release is worthy. Rather, a person can pursue a disciplined, deliberate strategy. To file the motion in federal court:

  • The person may hire an attorney that is licensed to practice law in federal court.
  • The person may learn about civil procedure and file the motion pro-se.

If a person wants to file the motion pro-se, the person must be skilled at articulating his story. He must rely upon all of his persuasive skills to help the stakeholders understand why he is a worthy candidate for compassionate release.

Compassionate release is not an easy lift. That doesn’t mean it’s an impossible lift. If a person does not work to build a compelling case, the chances are high that the person will not receive any relief from the sentence. If a person has a compelling case for relief, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a judge will authorize compassionate release.

Your Compassionate Release Petition

Many people who do not have the resources to hire an attorney want assistance. The law does not authorize anyone to hire a non-lawyer to file a motion on their behalf. Ultimately, if a person wants assistance in filing a motion for compassionate release, the person must file the motion independently, or the person may hire an attorney.

A judge may or may not agree that a person in federal prison is worthy of compassionate release. Yet if a person doesn’t try, the person will never know.

Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP)

The RDAP program is popular with people in federal prison because it can result a time cut. It is identified as a “residential” program because it reserves a specific housing unit for each person assigned to the program. Since RDAP is not available in every federal prison, people may sometimes start serving their terms in one prison, but then transfer to a prison that offers RDAP when they closer to their release date.

The RDAP program is also known as the 500-hour drug treatment program. People that participate in RDAP spend about four hours together each day in a group session or on independent study projects. Staff from the Psychology Department teach programs based on cognitive behavioral therapy. Basically, those programs endeavor to influence more positive living and thinking habits. Through a series of courses that include open-ended questions, essays, videos, reading, lectures, and personal accountability metrics, RDAP teaches lessons on the power of introspection.

Anyone may volunteer to participate in RDAP, but not everyone will be accepted. And in order to receive the time cut, a person must qualify.

How to Qualify for RDAP:

The psychology department at each prison will have a process to consider applications that people may submit if they want to participate in RDAP. After a person submits a request to participate in RDAP, a series of interviews will begin. To qualify:

• The person should have more than 24 months to serve on the sentence.
• The person should be able to document that he has a history of substance abuse during the 12-month period that preceded the arrest for the current offense.
• The person should not have any serious mental problems.
• The person must now how to read and write in order to complete the program.
• The person should not have any issues that could result in deportation.
• The person should not have any history of violence or weapons.

In practice, the Presentence Investigation Report will be the most relevant documentation when it comes to qualifying for the RDAP program. The more evidence a person can provide to show a history of substance abuse, the better. But in practice, to qualify easily, a person should admit to substance abuse within the 12 months that preceded the arrest. If the person makes such an admission during the interview with the probation officer for the presentence investigation report, that self-reporting may suffice. The more verification, the better.

Program Statement 5330.11 provides some guidance on what psychology staff must consider for RDAP applicants. The staff is supposed to review the PSR to assess whether the applicant meets the diagnostic criteria for abuse or dependence on the Diagnostic and Statistical manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V).

The substance abuse doesn’t have to be linked to the offense, and a judge doesn’t have to recommend RDAP.

Unfortunately, many people do not want to reveal their problems with substance abuse when they meet with a probation officer. They believe that discussing substance abuse may result in an unfavorable assessment of the person.

People that minimize their experience with substance abuse may face challenges in being accepted into the RDAP program. The higher the level of documentation they can provide, the more they strengthen their application. If a person tells a probation officer that he used drugs or drinks recreationally, or socially, the report may not help. Staff members may obstruct their efforts to qualify for RDAP.

Defendants that want to qualify for RDAP should discuss their interest with the defense attorney or with someone else that has knowledge of RDAP. Members on our team have extensive knowledge of RDAP, and they can provide personal guidance. If the person failed to reveal everything to the probation officer, then it may be important to gather other evidence to verify substance abuse.

It would also be helpful for the attorney to make a solid case for the defendant to become a candidate for RDAP during the sentencing hearing. He may ask the judge to recommend RDAP in the “Statement of Reasons.” The judge should make a finding that states the defendant had a substance-abuse problem during the past 12 months and that he wants the defendant to get treatment while in prison.

Other documentation that help a person overcome insufficient PSR documentation include:

• Documentation from a substance abuse treatment provider.
• Documentation from a licensed healthcare professional that diagnosed and treated the person during the 12-month period before the person’s arrest on the instant offense.
• Proof of two or more convictions for driving while intoxicated within the five years before the arrest.

To properly document a history of addictions, some of our clients work with Dr. Gerard Bryant. Dr. Bryant formerly worked with the Bureau of Prisons. He has extensive experience in resolving challenges with substance abuse.

Dr. Bryant has worked as a psychologist for longer than 37 years. He has worked in a wide variety of clinical settings, to include non-profit, government, higher education and private sectors.  In these settings, Dr. Bryant has provided individual and group therapy, crisis intervention and psychological assessment services. He has an extensive background in forensic psychology and the supervision of psychological professionals working in forensic settings.  

In fact, Dr. Bryant retired from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) after 22 years of service.  He started his career in corrections at the United States Penitentiary (USP), Lewisburg, Pennsylvania as a Staff Psychologist and was subsequently promoted to Chief Psychologist at two institutions, Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC), Brooklyn, New York and USP Lewisburg. 

Dr. Bryant had many roles during his tenure with the Bureau of Prisons. He provided assessments, individual and group therapy, crisis intervention and substance abuse treatment services.  He then served as the Northeast Regional Psychology Services Administrator for 17 years.  In this position he supervised more than 200 mental health professionals, including doctoral level psychologists and master level therapists, providing psychological and drug treatment, including the Residential Drug Treatment Program (RDAP) services, in 18 federal prisons.  

In his final two years with the FBOP, Dr. Bryant was an Associate Warden and Acting Warden at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York.  Upon retiring, he served on the New York City Board of Correction, a poly advisory group to the New York City Department of Corrections, from January 2016 to February 2018.

Throughout his career as a licensed psychologist, Dr. Bryant has provided individual and group therapy, crisis intervention, drug treatment and psychological assessment services.  His experience has largely entailed working with very culturally diverse populations and his private practice is geared towards adolescents and adults. He specializes in treating depression, anxiety, anger management and substance abuse.  

He also specializes in working with law enforcement personnel, military veterans, offenders and perpetrators of domestic violence. In addition, he works with court ordered individuals seeking help with anger management and substance abuse issues.  His emphasis with all of his clients is on goal-directed psychotherapy. He utilizes coping skills training, stress management, anger management, cognitive-behavioral therapy, problem solving, bereavement counseling, psycho-education, relaxation training, and conflict resolution strategies.

In addition to his clinical practice, Dr. Bryant has been an Adjunct Assistant Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY) since January 2005 and became the Director of their Counseling Services Center in August 2014.  In addition, has also worked as an adjunct professor at various colleges to include Borough of Manhattan Community College, Brooklyn College, and Bank Street College of Education.

Dr. Bryant has presented at many conferences and conducted workshops and trainings on topics to include correctional management, crisis management, substance abuse, suicide prevention, sexual assault and prevention, crisis support, work place violence, hostage negotiations and stress management.

If you would like to learn more about RDAP, including how our team and Dr. Bryant can assist you, schedule a call here.