Photo Courtesy of Rep. Jeffries’ Office
The new criminal justice reform law “is a victory for all Americans who believe in justice and the power of redemption,” U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (seated far r.) said.
By Michael V. Cusenza
Both sides of a seemingly widening political aisle hailed the criminal justice reform legislation that President Donald Trump signed into law on Friday as “historic.”
Co-authored by U.S. Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Queens and Brooklyn) and Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed, Safely Transitioning Every Person (FIRST STEP) Act will establish targeted reforms aimed at improving public safety and reducing recidivism.
Highlights of the new measure include:
Address Crack Cocaine Sentencing Disparity: Before 2010, those convicted for crack cocaine-related issues received a sentence 100 times harsher than that of those convicted of cocaine-related offenses. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced that disparity to 18-1. FIRST STEP makes that change retroactive.
Curtails Juvenile Solitary Confinement: This provision severely limits the use of juvenile solitary confinement, which can cause substantial psychological damage.
Focus on Dignity for Women: The new law implements a ban on shackling pregnant and post-partum women, starting from the moment that a woman is confirmed to be pregnant and extending three months beyond her pregnancy. In addition, the bill requires that the Bureau of Prisons provide sanitary napkins and tampons to incarcerated women for free.
Requirement to Move People Closer to Home: Contact with family reduces recidivism. FIRST STEP mandates that prisoners shall be placed within 500 driving miles of their families.
Reduce Mandatory Minimums: The law reduces second-strike mandatory minimums of 20 years to 15 years, and reduces the third-strike mandatory minimum of life in prison to 25 years.
Good Time Credit Fix: A provision which will ensure that incarcerated individuals can earn the 54 days of good time credit per year that Congress intended, and not just the 47 days that BOP currently allows, Jeffries noted. This reform retroactively applies to all prisoners who have earned credit for good behavior. It has been estimated by BOP and the Government Accountability Office that fixing this will lead to the release of roughly 4,000 prisoners and save $40 million in the first fiscal year.
Compassionate Release: FIRST STEP expands the compassionate release program from the Second Chance Act. It expedites BOP consideration of petitions, providing family members the opportunity to visit terminally ill offenders and ensures assistance with submissions of petitions for compassionate release.
Focused Resources on High and Medium Risk Prisoners: Evidence shows that this kind of programming has the greatest impact on those prisoners who are at the greatest risk of recidivating. To make the bill as effective as possible, it gives priority to high and medium risk inmates. People will be able to participate in such programming throughout their sentence.
Add Safety Valve: Under the bill, judges will have more discretion to sentence below the mandatory minimum for qualified nonviolent offenders who cooperate with the government.
“This does something — it does something that nobody else has really talked about. You’re incentivizing the inmate population for good behavior. In a prison, there’s nothing more important than that because the inmates will behave themselves because they’re looking at opportunities on the outside. That reduces violence not only on the outside but on the inside. It reduces violence on the inside for correctional officers, for other inmates,” former City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik said on Friday at the White House bill-signing ceremony.