The First Step Act Reviewed
The text of the Act: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/756/text
I have never looked deeply into the laws and regulations that are at the Federal level. This could be because it has never affected me, but mostly because I am not entirely sure they are constitutional to begin with. So when I was asked to read and review the new First Step Act that was recently signed into law by President Trump I wasn’t sure if I’d take on the challenge.
So I started to do some light research, read over the summary of the Act and what it was aiming to change, looked promising, but then again in my experience, as good as any new piece of legislation may look, what really matters is how well it is implemented and if it is implemented in the spirit and intent in which it was created.
What I found is that as good as that piece of legislation sounded on paper, it also required a budget to implement as well as staff, something that isn’t in the 2019 budget and is only a fraction of the recommendation the Act recommends in the proposed 2020 federal budget. This doesn’t bode well for the starting up of programs that are demanded by the law, such as the assessments and training that are promised in the law or for the prisoners that it was touted to help. The Marshall Project has written a comprehensive article about the budget discrepancies that stand in the way of a successful implementation of the Act. https://www.themarshallproject.org/2019/03/12/first-step-act-comes-up-short-in-trump-s-2020-budget
One good thing that should be easy and cheap to implement is the change of the number of days of good time, although how it is calculated currently is not very familiar to me and it appeared that what the new good time days apply to could be different than how the previous number of days are applied. The benefit this will offer an offender could be a wash. As I mentioned in the beginning, I am not super familiar with federal statutes or sentencing guidelines.
They will also be able to easily implement not shackling women while they give birth, the fact that they did that to begin with is appalling on its face, so the fact that they have to make a law to stop the inhumane treatment of pregnant women is about as un-American as we can get isn’t it? It’s amazing that the masses are unable to see how extensively we are in repeating the same mistakes that were made just under 100 years ago halfway around the world.
What I found most disturbing about how this law will be applied was the company selection that was made to create the committee, Hudson Institute. They would be responsible for the design and implementation of the assessment and reintegration programs that were demanded by the Act. This organization ‘s leadership will likely and very effectively gut any other good that could potentially come from this Act and the spirit in which it was made not to mention the manner in which it was advertised to the public by those that voted it into law along with our President that signed it into law. He has a history of a ‘tough-on-crime’ attitude and when you read articles that he has written they err more on keeping people incarcerated longer rather than preparing them better for release. Then again our justice system has never been about reintegration or second chances, but punishment and revenge.
You can read a great deal more about the man and the committee that is being formed in this Mother Jones article. https://www.motherjones.com/crime-justice/2019/04/trump-first-step-act-hudson-institute-risk-assessment-committee/
One thing to take away from this legislation, it won’t affect all offenders that are incarcerated, for some it will not affect them at all, it will largely depend on their conviction. But when you consider that this is the first piece of prison reform legislation in a very long time, any steps in the right direction are a good thing. I found the most comprehensive information in this article, which I recommend as a good read. https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2018/12/18/18140973/state-of-the-union-trump-first-step-act-criminal-justice-reform
In conclusion, while it isn’t perfect, it isn’t even super-fantastic, but it is better than we had before.