Every year the US leaves other larger countries behind for having the highest incarceration rate in the world. The Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that approximately 2.2 million adults were imprisoned in the US by the end of 2016. Given such a huge number of the incarcerated population, there have been enactments to bring reforms to the federal justice system.
Among these reforms, The First Step Act of 2018 has gained broad support. This is a regulation that can set some prisoners of federal penitentiaries free. It also allows for the expunging of the criminal records of such individuals, despite the prison terms they may have served. Moreover, the bill provides ‘good time credits’ to award prisoners leading to their early release.
Condition of Federal Prisoners:
The First Step Act provides some relief some prisoners who suffer from one type of ailment or another. There is a large number of prisoners that suffer from various mental and physical ailments, or who are elderly. In this category of prisoners, 51 sentences have been reduced. In 2018, the number of requests was 34 only, so this is a big step towards prison reforms. The Act gives some relief to those who have certain physical conditions that make their life in prison even more difficult than it normally would be. In case of physical sickness, old age and disability a prisoner can initiate a request for early release.
The Case of Cocaine Charges:
Given the disparity in conviction with versions of cocaine charges, nearly 1,700 prisoners in federal prisons are able to see a visible reduction in their sentence. The difference between these crimes is the type of cocaine i.e. cracked and powdered. Those who are affected by this disparity, The Act reduces their sentence. According to federal law, these prisoners can be released much earlier as compared to those who were convicted and sentenced for severer crimes.
Training and Programs for Prisoners:
Another bill, in combination with this Act, provides training, education and other programs for prisoners’ re-entry into society. This is a remarkable step in helping these incarcerated to rejoin their families, communities and their workforce once they are released.
The education progress offered in the bill can help these persons in getting a GED, or a college degree. These training courses and programs can help the prisoners acquire skills to get a job after their release. The re-entry programs are highly important for those who have been in prison for decades.
Mandatory Minimum Sentences:
Another reason this Act gained popularity is that it can help the prisoner and prison terms by fighting against mandatory sentences for a few crimes. For instance, charges related to drug crimes come with the minimum mandatory sentence given the connection to illegal substances. These sentences exist as politicians use it in their campaigns to appear as if they are working to support and improve the community. However, these sentences affect those that commit a first-time offense or possess a very small quantity of the drug.
The Act also includes people who have limited criminal histories. There would be additional 2,000 people eligible each year for exemptions from mandatory sentences. Through this Act, the sentences for serious drug felonies would be relaxed and will be cut down to 15 years from 20 years sentence.
Reduction in Prison Term over Time:
With the help of funding contributions, mandatory minimums, and need to release more prisoners, the First Step Act may reduce the prison sentence over time. Their issues are associated with the criminal justice reforms that several organizations fight for.
Good Time Credits and Early Release:
The award of good time credits in federal prisons can increase the chances of early release of the prisoners. There are over 150,000 prisoners in federal prisons, who can be hopeful and receive benefits based on these reforms. This means that those who would usually remain for another few years or decades will be released earlier. Whereas, some will see as early release a few weeks or months.
These reforms are not only shaping the nation’s understanding of the criminal justice system but also an open possibility for future efforts to be successful while fighting the lack of understanding of minimum sentences and difference with drug charges. With the help of additional enactments such as the First Step Act, the government can help people to be informed and educated.
The Inmates Will be closer to their Families:
This Act allows prisoners to remain closer to their families and be incarcerated within 500 driving miles from their homes. This would reduce the burden on families who travel a long distance to meet their loved ones in prison. Moreover, for the lower-level offenders, the bill allows home confinement instead of serving time in prison.
Ban on Shackling of Pregnant Women:
Apart from several positive steps, this Act bans the shackling of pregnant women and extends the shackling for three months after pregnancy.
Those affected by potential early release may need the assistance of a lawyer to help them with the processes. The person may need a criminal lawyer to look into the Act and determine whether there is any connection to release earlier or not.