First Step Act
|Other short titles||Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act|
|Long title||To provide for programs to help reduce the risk that prisoners will recidivate upon release from prison, and for other purposes.|
|Acronyms (colloquial)||First Step Act|
|Enacted by||the 115th United States Congress|
The Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act or FIRST STEP Act reforms the federal prison system of the United States of America, and seeks to reduce recidivism. An initial version of the bill passed the House of Representatives (360-59) on May 22, 2018, a revised bill passed the U.S. Senate (on a bipartisan 87-12 vote) on December 18, 2018. The House approved the bill with Senate revisions on December 20, 2018 (358-36). The act was signed by President Donald Trump on December 21, 2018, before the end of the 115th Congress. The act, among many provisions, allows for employees to store their firearms securely at federal prisons, restricts the use of restraints on pregnant women, expands compassionate release for terminally ill patients, places prisoners closer to family in some cases, authorizes new markets for Federal Prison Industries, mandates de-escalation training for correctional officers and employees, and improves feminine hygiene in prison.
Support and opposition
Supporters of the legislation include President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah). Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Dick Durbin (D-Il.), and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), supported the Senate legislation after sentencing reform provisions were added. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) urged fellow Republicans to pass legislation, during the lame duck session of the 115th United States Congress, by tweet, "GOP colleagues: NOW is time to pass crim justice reform unless your argument is that you prefer to work w Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pass a bill?" Had it not been enacted before the Democratic Party assumed of the House majority, it might have been further delayed and undergone contentious re-writing.
Opponents of the bill included Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), among others. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) who opposed the sentencing reform part of the Senate bill, has raised concerns about how the bill classifies offenders, and said he is "not sure there is anything" that could win him over. Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), opposed bringing the legislation to a floor vote, citing the short calendar for the lame duck session, during which the Senate also needed to pass a spending bill to avoid the shutdown of 2018-19, among other legislation. He eventually reversed his stance and said that the Act would be brought to a vote.
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The legislation increases the number of good conduct time credits prisoners receive from 47 days per year to 54 days. It also provides for earned time credits:
A prisoner, except for an ineligible prisoner under subparagraph (D), who successfully completes evidence-based recidivism reduction programming or productive activities, shall earn time credits as follows:
“(i) A prisoner shall earn 10 days of time credits for every 30 days of successful participation in evidence-based recidivism reduction programming or productive activities.
“(ii) A prisoner determined by the Bureau of Prisons to be at a minimum or low risk for recidivating, who, over two consecutive assessments, has not increased their risk of recidivism, shall earn an additional 5 days of time credits for every 30 days of successful participation in evidence-based recidivism reduction programming or productive activities.
One criticism of the FIRST STEP Act, as passed by the U.S. House, is that it addresses only prison reform and not sentencing reform. Changes were introduced in the U.S. Senate version of the Act that implement sentencing reform, including changes to mandatory minimum sentences.
Criticisms of the Senate legislation include that it lowers drug offenders' sentences during a drug epidemic, and the premise that the American system is unfair "has not been proven."
Senator Cotton has raised a concern that prisoners convicted of failure to register as a sex offender, importing aliens for prostitution, female genital mutilation and first-time assault with intent to commit rape or sexual abuse could be eligible for earned time credits under the legislation. He also has objected to the provisions that would allow some drug traffickers to spend portions of their sentences on home detention, arguing that they would return to dealing drugs.
A criticism raised by Senator Kennedy is that the bill "takes all our authority and gives it to a bunch of bureaucrats". A criticism raised by Eric Young, president of the American Federation of Government Employees council that represents the Bureau of Prisons' more than 30,000 correctional officers, is that without more bureau funding and higher staffing levels, the bureau would be set up for failure to accomplish the goals of the Act.
Another criticized aspect of the legislation is its reliance on rehabilitation, which some penologists regard as a less effective crime control measure than incapacitation. Another purported limitation of the legislation is the overlap between drug dealers and violent offenders; letting out only nonviolent drug offenders may not reduce the prison population much.
- Collins, Doug (23 May 2018). "Actions - H.R.5682 - 115th Congress (2017-2018): FIRST STEP Act". www.congress.gov. Retrieved 21 December 2018.
- Sullivan, Dan (21 December 2018). "S.756 - 115th Congress (2017-2018): First Step Act of 2018". www.congress.gov. Retrieved 21 December 2018.
- Trump signs bipartisan criminal justice overhaul First Step Act into law The Guardian, December 21, 2018
- Salant, Jonathan D. (17 November 2018). "Booker and Trump line up on the same side as Congress mulls criminal justice legislation". NJ.com.
- Ferrechio, Susan (27 November 2018). "Why criminal justice reform is closer than ever — yet still so far away". Washington Examiner.
- Jalonick, Mary Clare (27 November 2018). "Pence, Kushner push for criminal justice reform". News and Tribune.
- Levine, Marianne (27 November 2018). "White House makes last-ditch push on criminal justice reform bill". Politico.
- Zubizaretta, Tim (11 December 2018). "Mitch McConnell says Senate will vote on criminal justice reform bill". Jurist.
- Lartey, Jamiles (5 June 2018). "Trump's prison reform: Republicans on side but some progressives hold out". Guardian.
- "Senators Unveil Revised Bipartisan Prison, Sentencing Legislation". U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary. 15 November 2018.
- Everett, Burgess; Schor, Elana (November 26, 2018). "Cotton wields sex offender report to tank prisons bill". Politico.
- Katz, Eric (27 November 2018). "Federal Law Enforcement Not Happy With Trump-Backed Criminal Justice Reform". Government Executive.
- Kirsanow, Peter (30 November 2018). "FIRST STEP Backward". National Review.
- Mangual, Rafael (30 November 2018). "A 'first step' toward what, exactly?". The Hill.