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July 29, 2022

Another ugly report on the ugly implementation of the FIRST STEP Act

NBC News has another notable and depressing report on the implementation (or lack thereof) of the prison reform aspects of the FIRST STEP Act.  The full headline provides a summary: "Staffing shortages and deficient training leave First Step Act floundering, federal prison employees say: 'This is the biggest failure I've seen of something that's a law. It's pathetic,' one prison counselor said."  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

Chronic staffing shortages in federal prisons and a lack of training have impeded implementation of a Trump-era law designed to give nonviolent inmates the opportunity for early release, locking some up longer and contributing to eroding morale, union leaders and rank-and-file staff members said in interviews....

Staff members at some of the country's largest federal prisons said carrying out the First Step Act, a bipartisan law signed in 2018 by then-President Donald Trump, has been taxing, if not impossible. "It's not going at all," Joe Rojas, the literacy coordinator at the Coleman Federal Corrections Complex in Florida, said of the First Step Act's implementation. "I'm the education department, and we're never open, and if we are, it's barely," said Rojas, who is also the president of the American Federation of Government Employees' Local 506 at Coleman....

Bureau officials say they have worked to identify inmates who qualify for early release and "have no data which suggests inmates had their release dates delayed."

Rojas said employees like him who should be operating programs that can help inmates earn time credits aren't able to do so because they're being diverted to other correctional officer-type duties during the staffing shortage — a practice known as augmentation. "Most of us are augmented," Rojas said. "There's no programming. If there's no programming, you can't do the First Step Act."

Some prior related posts:

July 29, 2022 at 09:10 AM | Permalink


There is failure in implementing the First Step Act but it is questionable that it is due to staffing shortages. They did the comparison of staff positions in 2916 vs. today. They did not account for the ratio of staff to inmate.

In 2016 there were 43,000 staff positions and 192,000 inmates. Currently there are 35,000 staff positions and 155,000 inmates. These numbers are rounded off, but you can do the math. The ratio hasn't changed.

The quote of the staff member who talked about the failure of the First Step Act could have talked about the failure of the prison staff. The thousand of inmates released by the First Step Act would not call it a failure. Those who are waiting for prison staff to do their job have been failed.

Posted by: beth curtis | Jul 29, 2022 12:36:51 PM

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