At the end of 2018, President Trump signed into law the First Step Act, which is the largest criminal justice reformation act in a generation. It passed with huge bipartisan support.  

Early Release and Reduced Sentences

The First Step Act allows thousands of people languishing in federal jails to earn earlier releases from prison and will also reduce sentences in the future.

The Act will affect nearly 181,000 federal inmates currently incarcerated.

Some of the major provisions are as follows:

  • The mandatory minimum sentences are eased back thanks to the increased discretionary power of judges.
  • The ‘three strikes’ rule, which required individuals with three or more offenses to serve a life sentence is now reduced to an automatic sentence of 25 years. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 is now also retroactive.
  • This Act reduced the difference in sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentences. This action will affect over 2,500 inmates.

Inmates Will Be Able to Earn More ‘Good Time Credits’

In the past, individuals without a disciplinary record get 47 days for each year they are imprisoned.

Now, the law has increased this to 54 days, meaning inmates can reduce their sentence another week for each year they have been imprisoned.

How Do You Get “Earned Time Credits?”

‘Earned time credits’ can also be earned if inmates participate in specific programs, such as vocational or rehabilitation programs, which will hopefully increase inmates’ ability to be successful upon release and reduce recidivism.

For every 30 days an inmate has successfully participated in evidence-based recidivism reduction programming they will earn 10  days of time credits.

How Do They Decide Who Is Allowed to Use “Earned Time Credits?”

More controversially, the law will allow an algorithm to be used to determine who will be allowed to use these ‘earned time credits,’ meaning that inmates who are thought to be a higher risk will not be allowed to cash them in.

Critics think the law goes too far.

Critics of this aspect of the law maintain that this will simply perpetuate the racial disparities that are already widespread in the federal prison system.

The algorithm ignores the fact that people of color, or poorer people, are often more frequently convicted for crimes, even if they are not more likely to commit them.

Some inmates are also prohibited from earning some of the credits, such as undocumented immigrants, or individuals who have been convicted of high-level offenses.

Some Senators raised concerns that individuals who were involved with sex trafficking, female genital mutilation or failed to register as a sex offender would be eligible for these credits.

Others felt that unless the government better-funded prison staff, the Act would be a failure.

The Law Will Be Applied Retroactively

In addition, the law will be applied retroactively, meaning that some inmates currently in prison will be up for an early release soon.  

The Second Step

While this is the First Step Act, President Trump has proposed a Second Step, which would help reduce the obstacles to employment that former prisoners face.

The Next Step Act

Senator Cory Booker also recently introduced the Next Step Act.

The Next Step Act will aim to reduce the mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, allow former prisoners the right to vote, and continue to reduce the sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine crimes.

Similar to the Second Step, it will also aim at eliminating the barriers to employment that former prisoners face upon release.