FIRST STEP Act May Give Inmates Better Opportunities
On Wednesday, May 9 The House Judiciary Committee approved the FIRST STEP Act by a vote of 25-5. The FIRST STEP Act aims to reform the federal prison system. The bill, sponsored by Representatives Doug Collins (R-GA.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), focuses on correctional policy reforms.
Among other things, the FIRST STEP Act seeks more funding for prison programs with a goal of reducing the recidivism rate. Recidivism rate refers to the rate at which convicts commit crimes after their release. The bill may benefit society by improving the prison system’s effectiveness and preparing inmates with required skills and insights for successful societal re-entry.
The FIRST STEP Act tackles current BOP issues on both prison safety and Inmate Opportunity fronts.
- The FIRST STEP Act requires the Director of the Bureau of Prisons to provide a secure storage area, or vehicle lock boxes, where employees can store firearms
- The bill further directs the Director of the BOP to present de-escalation training as a training requirement of corrections officers.
The bill expands the federal prison industries program, giving inmates greater employment opportunities.
- The legislation requires the BOP to submit a report regarding the current pilot program to treat heroin and opioid abuse through medication assisted treatment.
- The bill seeks more funding for programs that empower inmates to not return to prison.
- The FIRST STEP Act extends the compassionate elderly release provision from the Second Chance Act, allowing a prisoner to request his or her compassionate release if he or she meets the requirements set forth in the law.
- The bill codifies the BOP’s guidelines regarding restraint use on pregnant inmates, which generally prohibit the use of restraints on pregnant inmates except those who pose an immediate and credible flight risk or threat of harm to self, baby or others.
- The FIRST STEP Act implements a post-sentencing risk-assessment system to ascertain an inmate’s risk of committing crime after prison release. The bill directs the BOP to utilize effective recidivism reduction programs and to provide incentives for inmates to participate in the programs. Inmates could earn credits toward an alternative custody arrangement, such as a halfway house or home confinement. The bill excludes criminals convicted of certain offenses from eligibility for the alternative custody program. Among those excluded by the bill are dangerous sexual offenders and murderers.
The bill may fall short
Some prison reform activists believe the FIRST STEP Act falls short. National advocacy organization, FAMM, supports the bill but point out its shortcomings. According to FAMM, the FIRST STEP Act “focuses incentivized programming on low-risk individuals who pose little threat of re-offending, instead of targeting those resources to individuals who need it the most.” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) also expressed concern that the bill didn’t fully address the issues at hand. Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) countered that issues such as sentencing reform could be addressed at a later time, offering that in a practical sense, the time to begin… is now.
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Facing a prison sentence is a stressful and sometimes scary event. It’s easy to get lost in prison reform’s changing climate. Call today to see how our team might assist you with sentence reduction or early release efforts. You do not have to face this situation alone. Call me at 1-866-208-8997.