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Our Programs: What’s in the First Step Act?

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Dream Corps

Our Programs: What’s in the First Step Act?

Sentencing Reforms

  • Eliminating mandatory life sentences for some third-strike drug offenses down to 25 years and the 20-year mandatory sentences for some second-time drug offenses down to 15 years.
  • Reforming the application of Section 924 (c) by stopping the mandatory stacking of sentencing enhancements in cases where firearms were possessed but not used in the crime, allowing these charges to be served concurrently instead of consecutively.
  • Safety Valve Expansion: Broadening the “Criminal History Scores” that can be considered for safety valve relief from mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. The safety valve mechanism was created to allow courts to consider sentencing relief for those they believed incorrectly excluded by the Criminal History score system. The new language strengthens the intended purpose of the safety valve by broadening the scope of eligibility, allowing judges to use their own discretion when considering the safety valve during drug sentencing.
  • Fair Sentencing Act Retroactivity: bringing relief under the Fair Sentencing Act, giving approximately 3,000 people serving outdated sentences for crack cocaine charges a pathway to freedom – this works retroactively for people sentenced before 2010.

Prison Reforms

  • According to the Congressional Budget Office, the First Step Act prison reforms would reduce the number of people in federal prison by 32,000 (a nearly 20% drop) over the next ten years.
  • Requires the Attorney General, Bureau of Prisons and an outside Independent Review committee to create a risk and needs assessment system that matches people’s individual needs to the most successful programming. This needs assessment system will be created through a thorough review and validation process overseen by these three entities. 
  • The periodic reassessment (every 12 months) will be based on factors that include indicators of progress (educational attainment & social relationships) that are dynamic and can be expected to change – not static factors such a criminal history
  • Provides major incentives to pursue life-changing classes by establishing an Earned Time Credit system where people earn 10 days of credit for every 30 days of programming. This would shorten their time in prison by allowing people to serve the remainder of their time in a halfway house or home confinement. 
  • Expands Good Time Credit to 54 days and applies this retroactively, resulting in nearly 3,000+ people coming home sooner.
  • It restores Dignity to Incarcerated Women by banning the shackling of pregnant women and requiring the BOP to provide women with tampons and sanitary napkins free of charge. It also bans solitary confinement for pregnant women.
  • Requires BOP to keep people within 500 driving miles of their families.
  • Changes the compassionate release request process and expands eligibility.
  • Requires BOP to assist in obtaining IDs prior to release.
  • Sets up savings accounts where 15% of money is placed into fund for use upon release.
  • Expands volunteers, nonprofit groups, and faith groups to go inside the prisons.
  • Holds the Bureau of Prisons accountable via language providing that BOP and the Attorney General shall do things, not just may do them.
  • Reporting – biannual GAO audit, requires AG to report annually to Congress on the activities implemented, the effectiveness of the programming, the recidivism rates and savings.
  • It requires the BOP to report capacity to treat opioid abuse through evidence based-programs, including medication-assisted treatment.

More Reading:

CNN: Ten Reasons to Celebrate the First Step Act

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