A Discussion Of the First Step Act

The First Step Act is a relatively new bill that focuses on rehabilitating people who are convicted of drug crimes through different incentives such as early release and privileges for those who are already in jail. The focus is not to reduce prison sentences for those who have not yet been convicted, even though some media sources have said as much. Signed at the end of 2018, there has been much discussion about the effectiveness of this type of act and whether or not it will help. Drafted by Jared Kushner, passed through Congress, and signed by Donald Trump, many see the First Step Act as a step in the right direction, but one that does not go far enough.

What Does The First Step Act Do?

The First Step Act, which is short for Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act, is a criminal justice reform bill first and foremost. It has a limited reach in changing the way we treat those convicted of a drug crime. The end goal is to reformat what the prison system does – instead of just punishing offenders, the focus is placed on helping them to move forward with their lives after they leave prison.

By focusing on those who are already in prison, the hope is to reduce the federal prison population in a few ways.

The primary emphasis is placed on offering vocational and rehabilitative programs to offenders. Inmates will get credits that give them early release into halfway homes or other specialty outpatient programs. This will help to reduce crowding in prisons while at the same time help people to reenter the world. There are already programs like this in place, though the bill seeks to increase the number of credits that people can earn.  At the same time, the bill helps to tackle the other huge problem with these programs: there aren’t enough to go around for those that are interested. With the First Step Act, there will be more money allocated toward anti-recidivism programs.

Not All Will Benefit From This Program

Not everyone in prison will be able to benefit from the changes. There is an algorithm in place to determine who can participate in it at first, and those who are deemed “high risk” won’t be able to participate. There are, intrinsically, some problems with this algorithm that will have to be worked out before it can be effective.

Of course, as with all new programs, there will be some places where implementation will look different depending on the individual, the location, and the facilitators.

First Step Act Timeline

The timeline for the First Step Act was relatively quick for a bill in today’s government – it was truly a piece of bipartisan law. The First Step Act Bill was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in May of 2018 with a vote of 360-50. Then, in November 2018, the Senate leadership changed the language that was used.