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December 21, 2018

Prez Trump signs historic (though modest) FIRST STEP Act into law ... and now comes the critical work of implementing it well!!

President Donald J. Trump officially signed the FIRST STEP Act into law today, and I am so very excited that a significant piece of sentencing and prison reform finally became law after years and years and years of talk and effort by so many.  I wish the reform was even more significant, especially on the sentencing side, but something is better than nothing and but for a modest reform to crack sentencing terms, we really have had nothing positive coming from Congress on the sentencing side in more than 20+ years.

The White House has this extended "fact sheet" about the FIRST STEP Act under the heading "President Donald J. Trump Secures Landmark Legislation to Make Our Federal Justice System Fairer and Our Communities Safer."  Here is an excerpt:

CREATING SAFER COMMUNITIES AND A FAIRER FEDERAL JUSTICE SYSTEM: The First Step Act will make our Federal justice system fairer and our communities safer.

  • The First Step Act will help prepare inmates to successfully rejoin society and enact commonsense sentencing reforms to make our justice system fairer for all Americans.
  • Among many reforms, the First Step Act will:
    • Promote prisoner participation in vocational training, educational coursework, or faith-based programs by allowing prisoners to earn time credits for pre-release custody.
    • Expand prison employment program opportunities.
    • Enact fair, commonsense reforms to mandatory minimums.
    • Eliminate the three-strike mandatory life sentencing provisions.
    • Give certain offenders the ability to petition the courts for a review of their sentences.

As the title of this post highlights, I am viewing the enactment of the FIRST STEP Act only as completing stage 1 of achieving significant federal criminal justice reform. Stage 2 involves the critical work of implementation, and so many of the large and small elements of the the FIRST STEP Act involve important and challenging implementation issues. Most obviously, the risk assessment system for prisoner programming and time credits needs to be developed and deployed in a fair and effective way and that is easier said than done. And the instruction that federal prisoners be house, whenever possible, within 500 miles of their homes is easier to describe than to ensure. And the new authority created by the FIRST STEP Act for courts to consider directly so-called "compassionate release" motions for sentence reductions presents a profound opportunity and a profound challenge for taking a second look at extreme (and extremely problematic) sentences.

I could go on and on, but I will save FIRST STEP Act "issue spotting" for the days and weeks ahead (I have created a new category archive for this very purpose).  For now I will just savor needed legal change and congratulate all those on the front lines who worked so very hard to help make this day possible.  Wow!

December 21, 2018 at 02:21 PM | Permalink


Doug, lots of good stuff here. Right now I'm looking at the changes to the compassionate release program. Very pleased to see the legislation now provides for the process to be inititiated by the inmate (if over 70?) if BOP doesn't act in timely fashion. Would very much appreciate your analysis of these provisions.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Dec 22, 2018 10:57:35 AM

maybe the 500 mile requirement will prompt some new prison construction and more incarceration .. . .

I wonder how many FIRST STEP killings will happen

Posted by: federalist | Dec 22, 2018 12:34:03 PM

Federalist, do you propose inacarcerating every convicted criminal for life? After all, isn't that the best guarantee of no recidivism?

Posted by: anon1 | Dec 22, 2018 1:00:16 PM

Only executing ensures no future crime from a person, as incarcerated persons do commit crimes against guards and other prisoners and there is also the risk of escape and crimes thereafter (a risk increased by giving offenders no hope of lawful release).

That said, I am pretty sure federalist does not advocate lifetime incarceration for everyone, as he seemed to welcome some of Obama's clemencies and I believe he has praised all the Trump clemencies. (Speaking of Trump, as we approach the two year mark of his time in office, I am finding myself wondering if federalist sticks by his prediction that Trump could prove to be a more moral Prez than Obama.)

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 24, 2018 2:28:40 PM

Can't speak for Federalist, but as for me, a life-long Republican, I am appalled by this unstable egomaniac we have elected and by the supine Republicans who enable him.

Posted by: anon7 | Dec 25, 2018 6:11:37 PM

Totally agree with anon7. Shame on the Rebuplican Senate.

Posted by: Emily | Dec 26, 2018 10:53:07 AM

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