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The First Step Act & What it Means

For those of us who understand the Federal Prison system and sentencing process, it's hard to imagine something good coming along that is helpful to those serving time. But believe it or not, something genuinely helpful is happening in Washington, DC, on criminal justice reform.

Earlier this year, as we posted here on our blog, a tiny handful of "true believers" decided to try to fix the federal justice system as much as possible -- in part by implementing reforms that have succeeded in red states like Texas and Georgia. Few gave it a prayer of success. But, against all odds, it passed. President Donald Trump signed into law a measure that amounts to what the New York Times calls "the most significant changes to the criminal justice system in a generation."

We see several positives from this legislation:

-Thousands serving outdated sentences for crack cocaine charges have the chance to come home and some of the bad components of the 1994 Crime Bill get scaled back.

-Good-Time Credit based on conduct is now 54 Days, rather than the approximately 47 days, as it was previously calculated.

-Women who are in labor while incarcerated will not be shackled anymore during childbirth.

It is truly bi-partisan, including advocacy from Senator Mitch McConnel, a previously staunch roadblock to any such reforms.

The negatives we see are:

-Increased monitoring provisions, including electronic/GPS, along with further prison system reach into the lives of those released and their families.

-Limited applicability to the current prison population, with some estimates being a few thousand inmates now serving federal time.

-The Bureau of Prisons has discretion over who receives benefits. With the recent reductions from the Fair Sentencing Act, benefits were granted by a Judge. Previous legislative provisions for early release that were supervised by the BOP led to very few inmates receiving any benefits.

In summary, any forward progress and awareness for U.S. prison reform are good. Time will tell how much a positive difference this makes for those serving Federal Prison time and anyone currently facing that prospect.

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