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How To Lessen Time Spent In Prison - Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP). If You Ever Will Consider A Plea, Read This First!

One of the most important questions a defendant who is contemplating a plea must ask is "How much time am I willing to spend in prison?" For some people the answer is five years, for some it's 10 years, for some it is one year and for some it is no time at all. Like most defendants who viewed himself as innocent, my initial position was "not five years, not five months, not five minutes!". However, as time goes by and the realities of the risks associated with a trial become a reality, positions change. This is where the real challenge comes in. The goal is to figure out what the maximum sentence a defendant will allow himself to get in order to reach his maximum tolerance of time inside the prison gates.

Let me just make one point right before I start. Unlike the state prison systems, there is no concept of parole in the federal system Parole is the method by which inmates of State prisons are let out early if they have been "rehabilitated". Unfortunately, parole in the federal system was eliminated in 1987.

The first item that gets taken into account the the amount of "good time" associated with a sentence. There is supposed to be a good time credit of 54 days per year that kick in at a year and a day. In reality, because of some complicated math used by the Bureau of Prisons, this actually comes out to 47 days or so. Another quirk in the system is that since good time is only given for sentences of over one year, someone sentenced to one year will not get any good time credit. However, a sentence of a year and a day, will get the good time credit. What is even more insane is that because someone with a shorter sentence most likely will not need any time in a halfway house, it is quite common for someone with an 18 month sentence to spend less time in the actual prison than someone who has only 11 months. The reason is simple. If someone has 18 months, he will get say 70 days or 2 months and 10 days off his sentence. this reduces it to 15 months and 20 days. From there, he will get 1.8 months off home confinement as home confinement is usually 10% of a sentence. This will reduce his time inside to prison itself to about 13 months. From there he could very well get additional time in a halfway house. If he gets only 2 months of halfway house time, he will spend the same 11 months in the actual prison. I will go more into the halfway house in a later blog.

The next and most popular way to get time off a sentence is by completing the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP). Unfortunately, it is also the most complicated and will make a prison sentence a little more restrictive. RDAP is a 500 hour course that takes about nine and a half months to complete. It is a voluntary program designed to tackle substance abuse issues. Those inmates in the program live in a separate dorm and have class every day. After being released from the prison, the inmate must go through four months of TDAP which is designed to make sure the inmate does not fall back on his addiction. It also basically guarantees at least four months of halfway house time followed by home confinement.  In return for going through this process, up to a year will be taken off a sentence. The Good Time Credit, oddly enough, is still based on the sentence before the reduction. The theory, I assume is that if the inmate does not attend TDAP, his year off will be revoked and he will then have to go back to prison.

As I mentioned, the rules of RDAP are relatively complex. One very important rule is that a candidate for RDAP must exhibit patterns of abuse during the year prior to indictment. If you conquered drug addiction five years ago, you are not eligible.What is even more interesting is that if you became an addict post indictment as a result of the stress associated with your case, you a similarly not eligible, I cannot stress this point enough: IF YOU THINK YOU ARE GOING TO BE INDICTED, YOU ARE TO CONSIDER YOURSELF AN ADDICT! It does not matter if you are an alcoholic or are addicted to any sort of drug or pills. From here on out you are an addict. To be sure, I am not advising dishonest; quite the contrary, I am advising you to be honest with yourself and face your addiction. When you get arrested or you surrender, before your bond hearing, you will be interviewed by an officer of the court. He or she will ask you if you are dependent on drugs or alcohol. Yes, you are.

So how does the time off work. Like everything else in the BOP, this is not simple. A sentence can be reduced by up to a year. However, a certain minimum sentence needs to be given to get a year off. As of now, in order to get a year off, a defendant must receive a sentence of 37 month or more. In order to get up to nine months, the sentence must be at least 31 months. From 30 months on down a sentence can be reduce by a maximum of six months. Now this is where it gets complicated, because once again, we have a situation where a higher sentence can result in less time in prison. Lets take two individuals; one has a 30 month sentence and one has a 37 month sentence. For the purpose of this example I am going to assume they both are admitted to RDAP before they get to prison and start the day they get there.

The individual with the 30 month sentence will get good time credit of around 117 days or around 4 months. He will then get an additional 6 months off for the RDAP credit. From there he should get at least 4 months of halfway house time to complete TDAP. And from there he will get 3 months of home confinement. The total time off therefore is 17 months out of his 30 month sentence, which means he should serve a maximum of 13 months in the actual prison.

The individual with 37 months will receive 145 days off for good time or around 5 months. He will then get a full 12 months off for RDAP. He will likely get 3.7 months of home confinement and should get at least four months in the actual halfway house. His total time off is therefore 24.7 months resulting in actual time served of 12.3 months, slightly less than the inmate who received a 30 month sentence. If we are to apply the calculations to a 60 month sentence, it should come out as follows. 60 months is actually about 51 months after the Good Time Credit. From there, RDAP will reduce the sentence to 39 months as 12 months will be deducted. Since the sentence was originally 60 months, he would be eligible for up to 6 months of home confinement, taking him down to 33 months. From there if he can manage 5 months of halfway house time, he will be at 28 months. Essentially, a five year sentence can amount to a total of less than half of that in the actual prison.

Going back to the defendant deciding how much time he can tolerate in prison, he just needs to use these calculation. If he is willing to spend up to a year in prison to avoid a trial, he should be able to accomplish this with a sentence of between 30 and 37 month. I personally know people who have spent less than a year in prison with sentences in this range. For a defendant this tool is critical. Viewing this from the standpoint of a prosecutor, it is very easy to understand how from a public relations standpoint a sentence of 37 makes for a much better headline than 11 month does.

The final two issues are relatively minor but need to be considered when contemplating the length of time that one is willing to serve. The first of these two is the issue that RDAP is not given in every prison and certainly not in all of the camps. There are only 90 RDAP programs at 77 different locations. Of those 90 around only 20 are at prison camps. There are only 2 Spanish RDAP programs and only 10 for women. The list can be found at
When contemplating a plea and putting RDAP into calculations, it is important to consider that it may be necessary to be incarcerated at a facility that is not close to home, making it more difficult for friends and family to visit. This is especially important considering there is not a single RDAP program in a camp in the New York and New Jersey area. On the other hand, the Miami camp where I spent my time, does have RDAP and plenty of people are more than willing to forego the benefits of serving time near home in exchange for reduced time  and a favorable climate. Since most people are designated to serve near their homes, it is all the more important to establish an addiction early on in the process if the closest facility does not have an RDAP program.

The next issue involves a little bit of planning. Considering that RDAP lasts 9 months and there are only 3 classes going at the right time it is critical to try to arrange a surrender near the start of a class especially when dealing with a sentence of 37 months or less. The reasoning is simple. It is possible to get total halfway house time, inclusive of home confinement of 9 months. After the RDAP reduction, the total sentence before halfway house time is 20 months after deducting good time of 5 months and RDAP reduction of 12 months. If someone is able to start RDAP the day he gets it or even withing a month of surrendering, he can essentially complete RDAP and then be released to the halfway house almost immediately after if he gets 9-10 months total halfway house and home confinement. If, on the other hand, he surrenders in right after a class has begun, he can potentially sit around for 3-5 months waiting for RDAP to start. In that scenario, this same 37 month sentence will go from 10 months to 15 months. Timing is critical when trying to maximize the RDAP benefit.

Plea deals are complicated and unfortunately there are competing interests at play; none of which really involve applying the "appropriate" punishment. Clearly, the prosecutor, is looking for the best headline, especially if the case is relatively high profile. The defendant, and his lawyer, wants to get the best possible deal so as to avoid a trial. During these times it almost a team effort between defense lawyers and prosecutors to come up with that magic number that satisfies everybody's interests. Once the sentence is handed down, the prosecutors really do not care how much time is actually served. They got their headline, and the defendant hopefully, managed to stay at or below his level of tolerance. Next time you hear that someone was sentenced to five years, done be surprised if you see him walking around in less than half that!


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