The Senate on December 18th, passed a criminal justice reform bill in an 87-12 vote, signaling the biggest reforms to the federal criminal justice system in decades. If the bill is approved by the House and the President, the bill only affects federal inmates. Currently , out of 2.1 million inmates, only 180,000 are imprisoned in federal prisons.
The bill has an excellent chance of approval, since diverse factions on the left, and right, such as the Koch Brothers, American Civil Liberties Union, and other diverse groups, support the reform bill.
Although Pres. Trump campaigned on being “Tough on Crime,” Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, was a major advocate for criminal justice reform. Jared’s father had spent 14 months in federal prison for economic offenses. Sen. Durbin( D. ill.) stated, Kushner was a “very important partner in passing criminal justice bill…”
Here are the major provisions of the First Step Act:
- The bill will make retroactive the reforms enacted by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentences at the federal level. This could affect nearly 2,600 federal inmates, according to the Marshal Project..
- The bill would take several steps to ease mandatory minimum sentences under federal law. It would expand the “safety valve” that judges can use to avoid handing down mandatory minimum sentences. It would ease a “three strikes” rule so people with three or more convictions, including for drug offenses, automatically get 25 years instead of life, among other changes. It would restrict the current practice of stacking gun charges against drug offenders to add possibly decades to prison sentences. All of these changes would lead to shorter prison sentences in the future.
- The bill would increase “good time credits” that inmates can earn. Inmates who avoid a disciplinary record can currently get credits of up to 47 days per year incarcerated. The bill increases the cap to 54, allowing well-behaved inmates to cut their prison sentences by an additional week for each year they’re incarcerated. The change applies retroactively, which could allow some prisoners — as many as 4,000, according to supporters — to qualify for release the day that the bill goes into effect.
- The bill would allow inmates to get “earned time credits” by participating in more vocational and rehabilitative programs. Those credits would allow them to be released early to halfway houses or home confinement. Not only could this mitigate prison overcrowding, but the hope is that the education programs will reduce the likelihood that an inmate will commit another crime once released and, as a result, reduce both crime and incarceration in the long term. (There’s research showing that education programs do reduce recidivism.)
Approval of the bill will allow thousands of federal inmates to earn an earlier release from prison and would reduce many more prison sentences in the future. Prison reform is essential to curbing the United State mass incarceration crisis. The United States has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s inmates. The United States has more jails and prisons, than Russia and China combined. The Criminal Justice Reform bill of 2018, applies only to federal inmates, but it is a step toward overall prison reformation.