For many prison inmates, loved ones and advocates across the country, First Step Act is seen as a small victory in a war that continues. But it only helps federal inmates. So, now what?
Supposedly, this is a prison reform bill that was fought for by both Democrats and Republicans. First Step has been years in the making, beginning in various US states, then moving forward on a federal level.
This bill is just one long awaited solution to the problems of increased human misery and mass incarceration. Many of the points touched on by the new prison reform act will also put dents in both the school-to-prison pipeline and recidivism in America.
However, there are some serious critics of the First Step Act prison reform bill. That would be the CEOs and money-makers behind the private prison industry in the US.
First Step Act Brings About Significant Changes in Prison Reform
Tuesday, December 18, 2018 was a momentous day for prison reform. Senate passed the First Step Act, giving thousands of prisoners chances at freedom… and keeping it.
For decades, America’s ‘tough on crime’ policies have filled our jails and prisons up in record numbers. Today, the United States locks up people at a higher rate than any other country in the world. And our strict sentencing laws, combined with probation and parole requirements, tend to keep many people in the system, one way or another, for life.
America is world-famous for mass incarcerating people, creating a massive prison population like no other on the planet. In many cases, ex-convicts receive no type of rehabilitation, including drug programs and job training. This, in turn, leads thousands back to prisons to create what critics call ‘long-term human warehousing.’
We prison loved ones must give thanks to the men and women who pushed for this bill:
- President Donald Trump
On the day the bill went live, of course the President took to twitter. Trump said in a tweet:
America is the greatest Country in the world and my job is to fight for ALL citizens, even those who have made mistakes. Congratulations to the Senate on the bi-partisan passing of a historic Criminal Justice Reform Bill….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
Prison Reform 2019: Some of the Key Benefits of First Step Act
Good Time Credits
First Step allows federal prisoners to earn good-time credits for good behavior. This helps get reduced sentences for those who stay on straight paths while incarcerated.
Job Training & Jobs
With this new prison reform bill, federal inmates will have access to job training in industries where they can actually land jobs after prison. Inmates who work jobs inside federal correctional institutions can actually earn money. Their salaries are kept in escrow accounts for them. They gain access to the money after release to pay for expenses related to freedom.
First Step has provisions that allow for creating new programs and revamping those that already exist. The goal for these programs is to help the federal inmates reintegrate into society once they’re set free.
Shackling Pregnant Women
This practice has long been under fire, not just by prison advocates and loved ones, but by the nurses and physicians of America as well. The shackling of a pregnant woman while she’s in labor and giving birth is cruel and unusual punishment. First Step puts this practice to bed for good.
Mandatory Minimum Sentencing
Legislature calls for some of the mandatory sentencing laws to be less harsh, especially when it comes to drug charges. With this new bill, judges now have more discretion when sentencing nonviolent drug offenders. Before, judges were required to issue no less than the minimum sentence allowed by law for each individual crime.
It’s because of these unjust sentencing laws that cause unfair disparities in the prison system. According to reports, these harsh rules caused over 2,000 people to remain in US federal prisons due to the way the laws were set up to punish one demographic harsher than others.
Powder cocaine sentences are extremely laxed in comparison to a conviction related to crack cocaine. This is a distinction many critics believe was set up to hit African American communities with a vengeance.
First Step Act Is Simply JUST the First Step
Critics and advocates both agree the bill doesn’t address the harsh federal sentencing laws deeply enough. Not to mention, most of the prison inmates in the US are not under federal jurisdictions. They are state inmates, meaning First Step Act laws do not apply.
Yet, it does address the problem of mass incarceration, especially as it applies to nonviolent offenders. It will take careful planning on both federal and state levels to reduce the country’s prison population. No one wants to see violent, dangerous criminals on the streets. But it’s time to give those who do not display violence their second chances and both freedom and life.
No, this bill is not the answer to all of America’s mass incarceration woes. However, it is the FIRST step in the right direction. Yet, it will take for all 50 states, as well as Washington, DC, to completely chance the way we sentence nonviolent offenders in the US.
Will Trump’s First Step Act put a fire under the state DOCs butts to make changes as well? That remains to be seen.