Since 2017, the Trump Administration has been responsible for implementing
many bold and controversial legislative changes. For all its benefits,
the First Step Act is no exception. On December 21, 2018, President Trump
enthusiastically signed a bill that provides new protections to women
and juveniles in the federal prison system, eases punitive sentencing
policies at the federal level, and introduces a new system that focuses
on rehabilitation instead of punishment. The
New York Times claims that the First Step Act offers “the most significant changes
to the criminal justice system in a generation.”
The First Act
The First Step Act was informed by former inmates and people who have loved
ones currently incarcerated. For this reason, it is full of provisions
that are intended to improve the lives of people serving their time.
A few major provisions of the First Step Act include:
- The First Step Act focuses greatly on inmate rehabilitation. A new Risk
and Needs Assessment system will be utilized to match people in prison
to supportive programs and classes. People who are considered high-risk
will have priority access to this programming. Inmates can earn 10 days
of Earned Time Credit if they participate for 30 days. Even if inmates
are excluded from cashing in credits, they can still benefit from the
new system. The hope is that people can emerge from federal prisons ready
to work and give back to their communities.
- The compassionate release process has been improved to help inmates who
are terminally ill or elderly.
- This bill provides women with free feminine hygiene products and bans the
shackling of anyone who is giving birth.
- The Bureau of Prisons is now legally required to place inmates in facilities
that are within 500 driving miles of their family members.
- The First Step Act also includes new auditing and reporting requirements
to track, report, and fix racial disparities in the system.
- Nearly 3,000 people who are serving outdated sentences for old crack cocaine
charges will be released from federal prisons across the country.
- This bill eliminates mandatory life sentences for Third Strike drug offenders.
- The First Step Act fixes a calculation that short-changed Good Time Credits
by 7 days. Now, inmates can get the full 54 days of credit each year,
as Congress originally intended. This change is retroactive, so up to
4,000 prisoners may qualify for an early release as soon as the bill goes
While many consider the First Step Act to be a modest approach to prison
reform, it’s still initiating several necessary changes to the criminal
justice system that shouldn’t be overlooked or disregarded.
Even so, it’s understandable why many critics have their concerns.
At present, this bill only impacts the federal system, meaning that only
181,000 of America’s 2.1 million inmates can benefit from these
changes. Also, the system uses an algorithm to determine who can cash
in time credits. Historically, new and revised algorithms have perpetuated
the racial and class disparities that are prevalent in the criminal justice
system. The bill already excludes certain inmates from earning credits,
including undocumented immigrants.
If you have any questions or concerns about the First Step Act, contact the
Riverside criminal defense attorneys at Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich today.
Call (951) 687-6003 for a free consultation.