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December 21, 2019

Some (incomplete) metrics as we reach the one-year anniversary of the FIRST STEP Act becoming law

Today marks exactly one year since Prez Donald Trump signed the FIRST STEP Act into law.  To celebrate the occasion, I will begin by just linking to just a few posts from last year around this time:

I could have linked to a dozen more post-enactment posts to provide a fuller flavor for the range of implementation issues (and commentary) that swiftly followed this historic bill becoming law.  But just the titles of the half-dozen posts above provide a useful reminder of the tumult that preceded congressional passage as well as various hiccups created by the subsequent government shutdown and some confusing provisions in the Act.

A year later, there are some obvious metrics for highlighting the first-year impact of FIRST STEP Act.  For example, this Federal Bureau of Prisons page reports on this "FSA Numbers" as of today:

In addition, the US Sentencing Commission in October released this detailed report on "First Step Act of 2018 Resentencing Provisions Retroactivity Data."  That report states that the mean decrease in months for retroactive resentencings has been 70 months.  Multiplying this number by the 2443 resentencing grants results in a total of 171,010 months of reduced prison time.  That is roughly 14,250(!) reduced years of years of federal imprisonment saved by just the crack statutory retroactivity provision of the FIRST STEP Act.

This Federal Register notice states that the Fiscal Year 2018 "cost of incarceration fee" per inmate was $37,449 per year.  Multiplying this number by the 14,250 years of reduced prison time suggests that the the crack statutory retroactivity provision of the FIRST STEP Act has saved US taxpayers around $533,680,000, that is over half a billion dollars.  This calculation  leaves out savings from many the other significant prison-time-saving provisions of the FIRST STEP Act (especially the good-time credit expansion and coming earned-time opportunities).  I do not think it improper to assert that FIRST STEP will ultimately result in billions of taxpayer dollars saved by reducing excessive prison time.

But, of course, prison years converted to taxpayer savings is a very incomplete metric for judging the impact of the FIRST STEP Act.  Smiles on the faces of families of persons benefiting from the reform are likely too numerous to calculate, and it is hard to quantify the impact and import of the hope that the Act should help spread among all justice-involved individuals.  And a new focus on prisoner rehabilitation, the significant echo effects on state-level reform efforts, and the evolution of political and social discussions around the criminal justice are also huge part of the first-year legacy of the FIRST STEP Act.

In the coming days, I may try to do a round up of notable posts from my FIRST STEP Act and its implementation archive.  In the meantime, I welcome any and all input on useful reflections or reviews as we mark this notable federal sentencing reform anniversary.

December 21, 2019 at 12:58 PM | Permalink


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