Understanding the New Criminal Justice Bill
January 7th, 2019 by McNeely | Stephenson
During the fall of 2018, Congress voted to approve a new bipartisan criminal justice bill known as the First Step Act. The goal of this bill is to improve the conditions in federal prisons across the country and address the mass incarceration problem for drug-related crimes and similar offenses. While many would argue that there are still a lot of changes that need to be made to the criminal justice system in the United States, there is still much to like about this bill.
The First Step Act: What Does It Do?
Specifically, the First Step Act introduces several programs that allow prisoners to earn “credits” that can be used to reduce their sentences or enter into pre-release custody/home confinement. The bill also includes some changes to mandatory sentencing laws, shortening minimum sentences for many non-violent drug charges. The “three strikes” penalty of life in prison is also reduced to 25 years under this new law.
How the Bill Could Improve Lives
Ultimately, the goal of the program is to reduce over-population in the country’s already overcrowded federal prisons. As a result, it is believed that prison conditions will improve and taxpayers will spend less money on keeping these offenders incarcerated. Furthermore, with changes created by the bill that allow for reduced sentences and early release, it is hoped that those who have been convicted of less serious drug offenses will receive the rehabilitation they need to lead better lives and even enter the workforce.
Potential Shortcomings of the Bill
The First Step Act will affect only federal prisons, which many claim isn’t enough, because the majority of people incarcerated for these types of offenses are currently in state prisons. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 87% of prison inmates are currently in state facilities. As a result, the changes created by the bill are not as far-reaching as some would like. Others argue that the changes made in the bill are also not enough and that sentences should be further reduced for certain offenses or that prisoners should be offered alternative/diversion programs instead of being incarcerated for these charges.
The name of the bill, however, seems to acknowledge that this is not a permanent, long-term solution but a first step toward prison reform across the United States. Combine this with the fact that many individual states have begun to implement their own similar bills, and the future is looking a little brighter.
For those who have faced drug charges or are doing time for similar offenses, the First Step Bill could be welcome news—provided they are incarcerated in a federal prison. Otherwise, it is unlikely that these offenders will be affected by the passage of the new criminal justice bill.
If you’re facing drug charges, the best step you can take for yourself is to consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Otherwise, you could end up facing serious punishment for even a first-time offense. A criminal defense lawyer will be able to look at your options and determine the best course of action for getting your sentence reduced or even having your charges dropped, depending on the circumstances.
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