As you may know, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have overwhelmingly passed the First Step Act. The passage of this seminal criminal justice legislation is highly significant because it represents that first major bi-partisan criminal justice reform bill that has been approved in a generation. Not only was the First Step Act have unprecedented support in Congress, it was also fully endorsed by President Trump – with the leadership of Jared Kushner. The President is expected to sign the bill on Friday, December 21st.
It is important to mention that a great deal of credit for reaching this milestone in criminal justice reform should was go the national criminal justice reform advocacy community- which includes NASW. For more than 10 years, we all have actively advocated for comprehensive criminal justice reform. Therefore, NASW along with our coalition partners are thrilled by the passage of this legislation.
The First Step Act prioritizes much needed reforms in sentencing within the federal criminal justice system. The bill includes the following important items:
- It will reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes;
- It includes programing funds that improve reentry services and planning;
- The act includes special funding targeting opioid prevention and treatment;
- The bill revises federal sentencing laws, including reducing the “three strikes” penalty for drug felonies from life behind bars to 25 years and retroactively limiting the disparity in sentencing guidelines between crack and powder cocaine offenses;
- The legislation eliminates solitary confinement for juveniles who are incarcerated in federal facilities.
- It requires the Justice Department to develop an evidence-based prisoner risk and needs assessment system to evaluate prisoners’ recidivism risk;
- Improves opportunities for inmates to earn “good time” for early release from prison;
- The First Step Act prohibits placing pregnant prisoners in restraints and shackles, and
- It expands the information required to be collected by the National Prisoner Statistics Program.
While the First Step Act is not perfect, it is certainly a critical “first step” toward reaching comprehensive criminal justice reforms at the federal, state and local levels. NASW should be proud of being a part of this advocacy and social action. It is an incentive for us to continue to be active on criminal justice reforms both at the national and chapter levels.