The First Step Act’s Risk Assessment Tool

Who is eligible for early release from federal prison?

Updated April 30, 2021

The First Step Act offers people incarcerated in federal prison the opportunity to earn credits toward early release. To help determine who is eligible (after excluding people with certain prior offenses), the US Department of Justice created the Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Needs (PATTERN), a risk assessment tool that predicts the likelihood that a person who is incarcerated will reoffend. This interactive version of PATTERN shows how each risk factor raises or lowers a person’s risk score and can estimate whether they qualify for early release.

How to use this tool:

The tool defaults to the first answer for every risk factor. Make sure to select your own answer for every risk factor to get the most accurate results.

Choose One:
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The Federal Bureau of Prisons uses PATTERN to help determine who is eligible for early release from federal prison. For people not disqualified based on their offenses, eligibility for early release is a function of risk level. Only people who score as low or minimum risk for both general and violent recidivism are eligible for early release, either into prerelease custody (i.e., home confinement or a halfway house) or community supervision. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the bureau has used the PATTERN score as one factor (PDF) in determining who is granted early release to home confinement.

In January 2020, the Bureau of Prisons updated PATTERN based on public feedback, adding new risk factors and removing others, changing how those factors are weighted, and revising the scoring. In January 2021, BOP corrected several errors (PDF). We’ve updated this tool accordingly. Complete definitions of each risk factor are available in appendix A of the 2020 Review and Revalidation of the First Step Act Risk Assessment Tool report.

Because the risk factors for reoffending can differ by gender, men and women are scored slightly differently. Also, PATTERN assesses two types of risk scores: one for general recidivism and one for violent recidivism. The table below shows how the general and violent risk scores correspond with the general and violent risk categories for men and women. For someone to be eligible for early release, their general and violent risk categories must both be minimum or low.

General Violent
Risk category Men Women Men Women
Minimum -23 to 8 -24 to 5 -11 to 6 -11 to 2
Low 9 to 30 6 to 31 7 to 24 3 to 19
Medium 31 to 43 32 to 49 25 to 30 20 to 25
High 44 to 113 50 to 102 31 to 71 26 to 33

The First Step Act also requires that a person earn enough time credits to at least equal their remaining sentence to be eligible for early release. For release to home confinement or a halfway house, a person must maintain a low or minimum risk score for at least two assessment cycles. For supervised release, a person must have a low or minimum risk score for the last reassessment. Prison wardens can approve early release for anyone, regardless of risk level. The Bureau of Prisons must conduct periodic reassessments and include dynamic factors, such as the number of programs completed, so that people can move from higher to lower levels of risk.


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Allison Feldman
Alice Feng and Ben Chartoff
Zach VeShancey
Serena Lei