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August 22, 2023

The Sentencing Project releases "The First Step Act: Ending Mass Incarceration in Federal Prisons"

I sense that the upcoming GOP Prez candidate debate, which seems likely to include some discussion of some crime and punishment issues, has prompted a number of groups to complete reports on the First Step Act.  Yesterday brought CCJ's short report on "First Step Act: An Early Analysis of Recidivism."  Today, The Sentencing Project is out with this longer report titled "The First Step Act: Ending Mass Incarceration in Federal Prisons."  This report provides some more background and coverage on various aspects of the First Step Act, and here is how it gets started:

In 2018, Congress passed and then-President Donald Trump signed into law the bipartisan First Step Act, a sweeping criminal justice reform bill designed to promote rehabilitation, lower recidivism, and reduce excessive sentences in the federal prison system.  Lawmakers and advocates across both political parties supported the bill as a necessary step to address some of the punitive excesses of the 1980s and 1990s.

The First Step Act includes a range of sentencing reforms which 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.

The First Step Act also seeks to expand opportunities for people in federal prisons to participate in rehabilitative programming to support their success after release. The law aims to produce lower odds of recidivism by incentivizing incarcerated individuals to engage in rigorous, evidence-based rehabilitation and education programming.  In exchange and based on a favorable assessment of risk to the community, they may earn an earlier opportunity for release to community corrections.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) reports promising results thus far. The recidivism rate among people who have benefitted from the law is considerably lower than those who were released from prison without benefit of the law. Among the nearly 30,000 individuals whose release has been expedited by the First Step Act, nearly nine in every 10 have not been rearrested or reincarcerated.  This 12% recidivism rate lies in stark contrast to the more typical 45% recidivism rate among people released from federal prison.

August 22, 2023 at 10:29 AM | Permalink


I'll bet $50 here and now that, if there is any mention of the FSA in the debate, it will not be favorable. Any takers?

We have urban gangs engaged in dangerous and widespread retail theft and carjackings. No one in his right mind is going to sing the praises of going soft on sentencing.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 22, 2023 7:16:01 PM

Bill, do you dispute the data in the CCJ report or this Sentencing Project report (or from DOJ) suggesting that the First Step Act has seemed to help contribute to a reduction in recidivism? Again, I know you often do not like for actual and accurate data to get in the way of your feelings, but I wonder if you even trust the encouraging data.

Posted by: Doug B | Aug 22, 2023 9:07:27 PM

Retail theft and carjackings aren't Federal crimes, as a general rule. Furthermore, auto thefts have increased across the country, not carjackings. Those are 2 separate offenses and it is extremely important that we use the proper terminology. However, the items you listed are red herrings as they don't negate the fact that former Federal inmates released via the First Step Act have low recidivism rates.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 22, 2023 10:17:05 PM


There is a backlash coming.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 23, 2023 8:46:31 AM

federalist (and Bill): I would be curious if you you agree with the "blame the victim" sentiment in the PowerLine piece: "the retail chains are partly to blame."

Posted by: Doug B | Aug 23, 2023 9:20:49 AM

I don't know. Given the litigation risk etc., they may be making prudent decisions. But they really shouldn't have to deal with that. We all pay more due to shoplifting. I'd like to see the feds prosecuting these rings. Serious prison time is called for.

But this piece puts pat to all your criminal coddling nonsense. Crime is getting worse, and it's interfering with our daily lives.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 23, 2023 10:50:32 AM


How do we even count recidivism today in a meaningful manner?

If we are arresting fewer people because of soft on crime policies, “recidivism” will look to have decreased.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Aug 23, 2023 1:18:13 PM


Doug's happy talk contrasts with facts on the ground.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 23, 2023 2:13:00 PM

Anon --

Quit with the criminals-are-wonderful party line and just tell me whether you're going to make the bet or not. If you're so confident, you should step right up.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 23, 2023 5:12:34 PM

Doug --

My co-author on Ringside at the Reckoning, Stanford Law grad Paul Mirengoff, was one of the founders of Powerline but is no longer with them. Decided I was a better bet.

I haven't read the Powerline piece, but I think stores are unwise in the extreme to put up no resistance to rampant shoplifting. What do they think the results are going to be?

As it happens, the fellow in charge of private security for CVS in Washington DC was a guest at my summer beach home a couple of weeks ago, and I mentioned his take on things in my Ringside entry here: https://ringsideatthereckoning.substack.com/p/what-a-collapsing-civilization-looks

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 23, 2023 5:20:09 PM

Doug --

"Bill, do you dispute the data in the CCJ report or this Sentencing Project report (or from DOJ) suggesting that the First Step Act has seemed to help contribute to a reduction in recidivism?"

Oh man, are the words "seemed" and "help contribute" carrying a lot of water in that sentence.

I'll just say, as Little Buttercup sang in the Pinafore, things are seldom what they seem.

More directly, I'll say that letting criminals out early means that more total crimes will be committed faster -- unless, that is, the released prisoners' recidivism rate is zero, which it isn't.

This is not ideology. It's just math.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 23, 2023 5:38:06 PM

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