Sentencing Resource Counsel has developed a one-page-chart with useful information titled The First Step Act of 2018: Earned Time Credits (updated Nov. 2019). The chart identifies: (1) important dates for BOP to meet the requirements of the earned time provisions of the First Step Act; (2) incentives to prisoners; (3) acquiring earned time credits; (4) using earned time credits; and (5) statutes of conviction that are “ineligible” for earned time credits.
The First Step Act, among other things, requires the Department of Justice (DOJ) to develop a risk and needs assessment system to be used by BOP to assess the recidivism risk of all federal prisoners and to place prisoners in programs and productive activities to reduce this risk. Prisoners who successfully complete recidivism reduction programming and productive activities can earn additional time credits (i.e., "earned time credits") that will allow them to be placed in prerelease custody (i.e., home confinement or a Residential Reentry Center) earlier than they were previously allowed. The act prohibits prisoners convicted of any one of dozens of offenses identified in the chart above from earning additional time credits, though these prisoners can earn other benefits, such as additional visitation time, for successfully completing recidivism reduction programming.
Keep in mind that "earned time credit" should not be confused with "good time credit." Good time credit results in an actual reduction of an inmate's sentence and awarded for maintaining good behavior during incarceration. All incarcerated persons, other than those serviing a life sentence, are eligible for good time credit. The First Step Act amended 18 U.S.C. Section 3624(b) so that federal prisoners can earn up to 54 days of good time credit for every year of their imposed sentence rather than for every year of their sentenced served. Prior to the amendment, BOP interpreted the good time credit provision in Section 3624(b) to mean that prisoners are eligible to earn 54 days of good time credit for every year they serve. For example, this means that an offender who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and earned the maximum good time credits each year could be released after serving eight years and 260 days, having earned 54 days of good time credit for each year of the sentence served, but in effect, only 47 days of good time credit for every year of the imposed sentence.