December 20, 2018

US Senate approves “First Step Act”


On December 18, the “First Step Act of 2018” was overwhelmingly approved the US Senate by 87-12 votes. This Act aims at reducing sentences for certain prison inmates, as well as providing for programs to help reduce the risk that prisoners will recidivate upon release from prison and for other purposes.

The Bill provides details on the following:

• RECIDIVISM REDUCTION - Risk and needs assessment system, Implementation of system and recommendations by Bureau of Prisons, GAO report, Authorization of appropriations, Rule of construction, Faith-based considerations, Independent Review Committee.


• RESTRAINTS ON PREGNANT PRISONERS PROHIBITED - Use of restraints on prisoners during the period of pregnancy and postpartum recovery prohibited.

• SENTENCING REFORM - Reduce and restrict enhanced sentencing for prior drug felonies, Broadening of existing safety valve, Clarification of section 924(c) of title 18, United States Code, Application of Fair Sentencing Act.

• SECOND CHANCE ACT OF 2007 REAUTHORIZATION - Improvements to existing programs, Audit and accountability of grantees, Federal reentry improvements, Federal interagency reentry coordination, Conference expenditures, Evaluation of the Second Chance Act program, GAO review.

• MISCELLANEOUS CRIMINAL JUSTICE - Placement of prisoners close to families, Home confinement for low-risk prisoners, Federal prisoner reentry initiative reauthorization; modification of imposed term of imprisonment, Identification for returning citizens, Expanding inmate employment through Federal Prison Industries, De-escalation training, Evidence-Based treatment for opioid and heroin abuse, Pilot programs, Ensuring supervision of released sexually dangerous persons, Data collection, Healthcare products, Adult and juvenile collaboration programs, Juvenile solitary confinement.

The Bill also aims to establish programs to head off repeat offenders and protect first-time non-violent offenders from harsh mandatory minimum sentences.

The Bill revises the Controlled Substances Act’s harsh drug penalties, including lowering of the “three strikes” rule for drug felons that had sent them to life in prison (now down to 25 years). It also changes the two or more felonies within the rule from any “felony drug offense” to “a serious drug felony or serious violent felony,” defined in the text of the bill.

On the Senate Passage of Landmark Criminal Justice Reform Bill, Senator Cory Booker, an original cosponsor of the Bill and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “Our country’s criminal justice system is broken – and it has been broken for decades. You cannot deny justice to any American without it affecting all Americans. That’s why the passage of the First Step Act tonight is so meaningful – it begins to right past wrongs that continue to deny justice to millions of Americans.”

Sen. Booker added, “This bill is a step forward for our criminal justice system. By no means can it be the only step – it must be the beginning of a long effort to restore justice to our justice system... But for the first time in a long time, with the passage of this bill into law, our country will make a meaningful break from the decades of failed policies that led to mass incarceration, which has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, drained our economy, compromised public safety, hurt our children, and disproportionately harmed communities of color while devaluing the very idea of justice in America.”

Also, US President Donald Trump congratulated the Senate on passing the Bill and stated that he looked forward to signing it into law. President Trump said, “This will keep our communities safer, and provide hope and a second chance, to those who earn it. In addition to everything else, billions of dollars will be saved.”

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