After years of negotiations, the Trump administration passed a rare bipartisan reform bill to improve the criminal justice system late last week.
President Donald Trump said during the signing ceremony that the legislation is “an incredible success for our country” and that it “will make communities safer, save tremendous taxpayers dollars. It brings much-needed hope to many families during the holiday season.”
The legislation named the First Step Act “gives judges more discretion when sentencing some drug offenders and boosts prisoner rehabilitation efforts. It also reduces the life sentence for some drug offenders with three convictions, or “three strikes,” to 25 years. Another provision would allow about 2,600 federal prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before August 2010 the opportunity to petition for a reduced penalty,” writes the Associated Press.
The act will reform prison employment and training programs to better prepare prisoners for returning to society. Prisoners that choose to participate in programs with the goal of reducing recidivism can earn credits to use toward an earlier release. But prisoners that have been convicted with multiple serious crimes won’t be eligible to earn these credits.
The bill also requires that prisoners be placed within 500 driving miles from their home. Pregnant prisoners will no longer be retained with chains and women will be given free access to feminine hygiene products.
The life sentence for offenders that have had three convictions has been reduced to 25 years and the minimum sentence for felony drug offenses has been reduced to 15 years from 20.
But the reform doesn’t soften the charges for all prisoners.
“Many advocacy groups wanted the changes easing the severity of mandatory minimum sentences to apply retroactively. That would mean a prisoner sentenced to life in prison under the “three strikes” rule could petition for the 25-year minimum that would be established under the legislation,” writes the Associated Press. “But to get the backing of law enforcement groups, supporters agreed to make the changes apply to future offenders, with the one exception being the prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before late 2010.”
“I’m human and I would have loved to have benefited from the bill, but unfortunately I don’t,” said Chris Young, a federal prisoner in Lexington, Kentucky to The Guardian.“I don’t necessarily feel left behind, I just feel [lawmakers] don’t understand what goes on with the … actual humans that their choices and politics affect.”
However, many believe the bill could lead to more reform on the state and local level.
Kevin Ring, the president of Families against Mandatory Minimums that lobbied for this reform said that its “a small first step, but it is finally a step in the right direction.”
“This victory truly belongs to the thousands of people who, like me, have been personally impacted by incarceration and have dedicated their lives to improving the system,” said Jessica Jackson-Sloan, national director and co-founder of #cut50, a reform group that sponsored the bill. “This bill was informed by their experiences. Their stories helped win over the president’s support.”