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What is the First Step Act?

By: Jackson Carter

· Domestic Policy

The First Step Act, formally known as the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act, is a criminal justice reform bill that, at its core, serves to help people who have fallen victim to overly harsh sentencing in drug offense cases. The Act serves as a directive to the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) to assess the likelihood of an inmate to re-offend on a case by case basis, as well as to establish housing (half-way houses) and other programs to incentivise inmates to partake in recidivism rate reduction programs, programs that reduce the odds of a person becoming a repeat offender.

The bill, which passed in the Senate with an 87-12 vote, has been heralded by both the Republicans and Democrats and a major step in the right direction in fixing America’s “broken” criminal justice system. On December 18th, 2018, just hours after the bill passed the Senate, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) tweeted, “A BIPARTISAN CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM BILL JUST PASSED THE SENATE! This was years in the making. Thousands will obtain greater justice and new pathways to liberation as a result of this bill. This is just one step. This is just the beginning. The work must continue. Onward!” The First Step Act was one of the few rare occasions that a bill gains almost total bipartisan support in Congress.
One of the biggest focuses of the bill was reforming the federal “three strikes provision”. According to an article posted by Fox News, “In an attempt to focus the harshest sentences on the most violent offenders, the law lowers the mandatory minimum sentences for prior drug felonies. Drug offenders with three convictions – or “three strikes” – could face 25 years in prison instead of life.” The Act also has provisions to facilitate the early release of some prisoners who elect to join recidivism rate reduction programs offered by a variety of institutions. Prisoners can also work towards earlier release dates by accruing up to seven good behavior credits each calendar year to be taken off of the end of their sentence.

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