The First Step Act promised widespread reform. What did the criminal justice overhaul achieve so far
Updated: Nov 7
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
More than 3,000 inmates have been released and another roughly 1,700 people convicted of crack cocaine offenses have seen their sentences reduced thanks to the First Step Act, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
Some of that activity stems from a 2011 change made by the federal sentencing commission affecting people convicted of certain drug crimes and a provision of the First Step Act. That provision made the sentencing guidelines of the Obama-era Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive.