Pres. Donald J. Trump earned another significant legislative win as the Senate passed a prison reform package 87-12 that heads back to the House where it is expected to gain quick approval. It is likely to mark his second significant legislative achievement following the landmark Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017 and his first social justice reform policy win.
The 11th-hour bipartisan vote has been rushed due to the anticipation that Nancy Pelosi will retake the House speakership and block the measure on resist and obstruct grounds. Pelosi and Pres. Trump are at odds over border security, immigration and the far-left Democrat has worked against Pres. Trump’s agenda, even when it proved beneficial for her constituents.
That being said, the First Step Act has been hailed as a major accomplishment in curbing excessive sentencing that has disproportionately impacted African-Americans. These are items Americans can expect from federal criminal justice reform under the First Step Act.
1: Inmates Get Incentives For Rehab
The U.S. Attorney General will reportedly be required to create a “Risk and Needs System” in less than seven months designed to help prisoners work toward a successful transition into society. Those who participate earn incentives that include the following:
- Phone privileges
- Relocation to a facility closer to family members
- Increased email access
- Increased visitation time
Inmates can also accumulate credit toward halfway house placement or home confinement. However, violent and dangerous offenders will not be eligible for participation.
2: Pregnant Convicts May Be Exempt From Restraints
This is a controversial part of the First Step Act because it removes the ability of correctional officers to handcuff or otherwise restrain agitated pregnant prisoners in many instances. Corrections official may cuff aggressive females under certain circumstances using the “least restrictive means” available. Corrections officers are also tasked with reporting any restraints used to the Bureau of Prisons.
3: Sentencing Reform Rights Clinton-Era Wrongs
This is the portion of the measure that received the most bipartisan support and would curb the excessive sentencing that began with the so-called “three strikes” laws under now-disgraced Pres. Clinton. The First Step Act focuses on reducing mandatory minimums from 20 to 15 years for crimes deemed a “serious drug felony.” It also vacates the life sentences of so-called “three strikes” offenders to 25 years. Thousands of inmates have been given mandatory life sentences since the Clinton-era rules. The new law would also allow judges greater sentencing discretion for non-violent offenders. Called the “safety valve” in legal circles, the increased judicial latitude applies to people with no more than one prior conviction among other limitations.
In terms of social justice, African-Americans were disproportionately sentenced for crack cocaine possession and distribution over powder cocaine offenders. This has long been viewed as a socio-economic bias that was pushed through during the Clinton Administration. Pres. Obama balanced sentencing between crack and powder cocaine in 2010. Pres. Trump’s First Step Act would open the door for crack cocaine convicts to petition the court for reduced sentences. In effect, the new law retroactively rights the wrong of excessive sentencing against African-Americans.
4: Increased Home Confinement Will Unburden Taxpayers
One of the items that Pres. Trump refers to on a regular basis is the high cost of incarceration to American taxpayers. The annual cost has reportedly risen to upwards of $81 billion for prisons alone and $182 billion when the full spectrum of the system is tallied.
The new law would open the door for low-risk, non-violent offenders to spend as much as 10 percent or a maximum of 6 months in home confinement. The bill also enacts compassion measures that include:
- Mandatory family notification and visit within seven days of a terminal illness diagnosis.
- Compassionate release request review with 14 days of terminal illness diagnosis.
The First Step Act also re-implements compassionate release under the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program that was used from 2009-2010. The 65-year-old threshold has also been reduced to 60 under the guidelines after two-thirds of a sentence has been completed.
5: Treatment Of Opioid Addiction Addressed
The president furthers his war on the opioid crisis by tasking the Bureau of Prisons with submitting a report on evidence-based treatment programs they have in place. The Bureau has been resistant to using medically appropriate treatment despite proven effectiveness. They must prove their case and provide adequate addiction treatment methods going forward.
6: First Step Act Not A Final Solution
Although the legislation earned substantial bipartisan support, it is widely viewed by both parties and the White House as a bridge to further criminal justice reform. Many members of Congress and the president view the measure as a “first step” to reducing the high incarceration rates in the U.S.
~ Conservative Zone