The criminal justice system just got its biggest change in decades; as a new criminal justice reform bill is set to revamp some constructs of the prison system.
The First Step Act is the new criminal justice reform bill that many headlines are referring to as an “overhaul” or a “sweeping” of the current criminal law. On Tuesday, the Senate voted 87-12 to pass a new legislation that will only affect federal prisoners. Reports show the bill will give judges more freedom with sentencing and the ability to adjust mandatory minimums for some crack and cocaine charges.
Federal prisoners make up about 10 percent of the American prison population. Currently, there are about 181,000 people in federal prisons as of this month. At the end of 2016, there were about 1.3 million inmates in state prisons and another 741,000 in local jails, Fox news reports. The act would also combat other issues like preventing the use of restraints on pregnant prisoners during childbirth. Additionally, the bill would allow prisoners the ability to earn “good time credits” to reduce their time in prison if they participate in educational and other programs designed to assist them outside of prison.
The Republican Study Committee says its goal is to “reduce recidivism by allowing low-or minimum-risk prisoners to earn time credits toward earlier transfer to prerelease custody such as a halfway house if they participate in certain recidivism-reducing programs while in prison.” Trump immediately took to Twitter to praise the new bill, which is said to be passed and signed into law this week. “America is the greatest Country in the world and my job is to fight for ALL citizens, even those who have made mistakes, Trump tweeted. “This will keep our communities safer, and provide hope and a second chance, to those who earn it. In addition to everything else, billions of dollars will be saved. I look forward to signing this into law!”
While the new bill will help several thousand federal prisoners – it is only scratching the surface on the major issue that is mass incarceration. There are 2.1 million people in jail or prison and 181,000 in federal prison – realistically only about 6,000 to 7,000 prisoners will be freed or have their sentences slightly shortened under the new act, Vox reports.