In December 2018, the United States took a significant step towards reforming its criminal justice system with the passage of the First Step Act. President Donald Trump signed this landmark legislation.
It marked a substantial shift in the nation’s approach to criminal justice. The goals were to emphasize rehabilitation and reintegration rather than punitive measures. The Sentencing Project reported that first-time drug trafficking offenders made up 58% of people released under the act.
Addressing mass incarceration
One of the primary goals of the First Step Act is to address the issue of mass incarceration. The law aims to reduce the burgeoning federal prison population by providing inmates with opportunities for early release based on their participation in rehabilitative programs.
Under the First Step Act, inmates can earn time credits for their participation they can use in a halfway house or home confinement. This allows them to gradually transition back into their communities. This not only benefits the inmates but also reduces the financial burden on the federal government.
Confronting sentencing disparities
The Act also addresses the issue of sentencing disparities. This has been a concern due to the effect on minority communities. It retroactively applies the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the sentencing disparity between offenses involving crack cocaine and powder cocaine. As a result, many inmates serving lengthy sentences for non-violent drug offenses have the opportunity to petition for a reduction in their sentences, offering them a second chance at a productive life outside of prison.
Changing the treatment of females
The First Step Act introduced changes in the treatment of female inmates. It prohibits the shackling of pregnant inmates and mandates the provision of hygiene products for female prisoners, addressing long-standing concerns about the treatment of women behind bars.
Critics argue that the Act fell short in some areas, such as failing to address mandatory minimum sentences for certain offenses. However, the First Step Act represented a significant shift in the United States’ approach to criminal justice. It acknowledged that the system had flaws and worked to correct them.