FIRST STEP ACT TAKES EFFECT ON JULY 19, 2019
The First Step Act signed into law in December 2018 was Congress’ first attempt at remedying the unintended consequences of mandatory minimum and draconian sentences that resulted in mass incarceration. The First Step Act stands for “Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person.” The main goal of the Act is to provide prisoners with an opportunity to reduce their sentences by engaging in positive behavior through rehabilitative programming. Inmates who take part in evidence-based training programs can earn not only the 54 days of good time per year but also earn credit time that would allow them to go to a halfway house or home confinement early.
The Act gives the United States Bureau of Prison 210 days to develop the implementation model to affect the intent of the Act. So, on July 19, 2019, the Bureau of Prison would release, according to them some 2, 200 inmates immediately. Others would see a change in their release dates from one week to a few months and probably many years. Under the Act, inmates would automatically receive 54 days of good time at the beginning of the year for each year of the sentence imposed as opposed to 47 days for each year served under the old laws. Those who engage in programming would receive an extra ten days off for every 30 days of programming. Technically, an inmate can receive up to 120 days of earned credit time a year. Also, there are an extra five days to earn following a BOP assessment that an inmate is at low risk for recidivism.
The Act focuses on the reduction of recidivism. Proper rehabilitation is the only way to reduce recidivism; education, job training, mental health are essential components in the rehabilitative process. The BOP does not provide the kind of programming that meets the rehabilitative needs of many inmates. For example, the BOP has 102 institutions; only 2% of them have programs that could potentially rehabilitate a prisoner. Most facilities have no job or education program. The few institutions that have job training programs; such as culinary arts, food safety, HVAC or mechanic and the ones that exist usually have long waiting list.
Congress has allocated only 75 million dollars for enforcement of the First Step Act, that pittance is not even 1% of the funds needed to develop, maintain and implement real programming that would provide inmates the training and skills to compete in the real world. There are nearly 200,000 Americans in federal prisons, approximately 50% of them are serving sentences between 5 and 15 years, enough time for an inmate to receive his high school diploma, a college degree or vocational training. The sad truth, most first time offenders in federal prison, learn how to be smarter criminals instead of finding opportunities to become productive members of society.
Although Rise-N-Step supports the First Step Act, we consider it only as a first step towards real reform. Congress must enact laws that would fundamentally change the business of incarceration. Prison has become a business where certain investors benefit from the plight of poor and disadvantaged people. Real reform would abolish private prisons, repeal mandatory minimum sentences, repeal draconian sentences for non-violent drug dealer, and end the crack and cocaine disparity which is still
1 to 18.
Rise-N-Step, under my leadership, is doing its part in helping to reduce recidivism by developing programs that meet the rehabilitative needs of its members from the first contact with the justice system to post-incarceration. With the help of donors, we can implement programs that provide an opportunity to gain and improve marketable skills, education, and job training. Early next year, Rise-n-Step plans to launch the “Life University” program conceived and developed by Amad Jamal Polite, RNS director of the State of Oregon. For more information about our programs, please visit our website at rise-n-step.org. We welcome your donations and comments.