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The First Step Act promised widespread reform. What did the criminal justice overhaul achieve so far

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

The First Step Act is a bipartisan criminal justice bill passed by the 115th Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in December 2018. Source

The Act enacted several changes in U.S. federal criminal law aimed at reforming federal prisons and sentencing laws in order to reduce recidivism, decreasing the federal inmate population, and maintaining public safety.

Some of the key achievements of the First Step Act are: Source

  • The Act fixed some of the most excessive and unfair sentencing practices, increased rehabilitative programming and incentives in prisons, and reunited thousands of families.

  • The Act made the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive, enhanced judicial discretion, created earned time credits, increased good time credits, reduced certain mandatory minimum sentences, and expanded the safety valve that allows persons with minor prior convictions to serve less time than previously mandated.

  • Of the nearly 30,000 people released under the First Step Act, only 12.4% have been re-arrested or returned to federal custody.

However, there is still a long way to go in terms of criminal justice reform. The First Step Act is just the beginning of a larger movement towards a more equitable and just criminal justice system. Source

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