We’ve all seen President Trump’s prison reform initiative plastered all over the media. This was actually something that both parties supported, but what exactly is it and what does it do for those currently incarcerated?
In December 2018, President Trump signed into law the First Step Act, marking the first major reforms to our criminal justice system in over a decade. The First Step Act helps inmates successfully transition back into society and gives them a second chance.
According to Whitehouse.gov…
- The First Step Act is providing prisoners with a second chance through rehabilitative programs, fair sentencing, and smart confinement.
- Over 16,000 inmates are enrolled in a drug treatment program offered as part of the robust drug treatment strategy managed by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
- To date, BOP has assessed over 400 inmates for participation in Medication Assisted Treatment programs designed to aid in their recovery.
- The First Step Act provided the opportunity for sentencing relief for certain defendants who received mandatory minimum sentences prior to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.
- 721 defendants have received sentence reductions, 573 of which have resulted in inmates being released.
- The First Step Act expanded avenues for eligible elderly and terminally ill prisoners to get their sentences reduced by allowing for their motions to be directly filed with the courts.
- The First Step Act authorized eligible low-risk and elderly inmates to be transferred to home confinement when possible.
- The legislation also advised BOP to place inmates within 500 driving miles of home when possible.
- President Trump’s fiscal year 2020 Budget proposes over $500 million for various Federal programs to help prisoners succeed in society after their release, including:
- $234 million for the Department of Justice to support reentry programs, inmate education, and occupational training programs.
- $78 million for the Department of Labor to improve employment outcomes for formerly incarcerated adults and young adults.
- In 2019, the Department of Education will provide $28 million for a Pell grant pilot program to help eligible incarcerated Americans pursue postsecondary education.
- These initiatives are intended to help reduce the rate of recidivism and offer prisoners the support they need for life after incarceration.
Matthew Charles, a Tennessee man jailed in Kentucky, was one of the first prisoners released under the First Step Act. Charles was sentenced to 35 years in prison for selling crack cocaine in 1996. Over the last 21 years in prison, he had no disciplinary actions, took college courses and mentored other prisoners.
His federal defense attorneys filed a motion soon after First Step was enacted, arguing their client would have received a shorter sentence if the case happened today. A U.S. District Judge cited the First Step Act as the reason that she was reducing Charles’ sentence, and he was later released from prison.
President Trump is also using his constitutional authority to pardon and shorten prison sentences for people convicted of federal crimes including Alice Marie Johnson, who had been in jail for over twenty years for a first-time drug conviction.
While mainstream media covered the First Step Act, Americans were not educated on the impact that it would have on our nation or the lives that it would save by giving inmates a second chance. That’s why it’s our responsibility to educate ourselves and share this information with others.