Today’s Solutions: March 25, 2023

Many of the 153,316 individuals currently incarcerated in federal and private facilities in the United States face lengthy sentences for nonviolent crimes. Upon release, most of these inmates will have significant difficulty finding work or a stable living, increasing their risk of returning to crime and winding up back in prison. This recidivism, the tendency of previously incarcerated individuals to become reincarcerated, can be exacerbated by long prison sentences. This cycle of recidivism nullifies the goal of rehabilitating these individuals and has the perverse result of perpetuating crime in our society.

With new rules set by the Justice Department in January, however, many of these Americans’ sentences can be shortened, and the first steps towards joining a productive society can begin. 

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has already begun moving some inmates into supervised release programs, halfway homes, or home confinement. Additionally, many inmates convicted for non-violent crimes are now eligible for a credit system where they take part in prison recidivism-reduction programs in exchange for time off their sentences. 

In some cases, inmates can earn 10 to 15 days of their sentences for 30 days of participation in these programs. 

The First Step Act 

According to the Justice Action Network, a bipartisan group dedicated to prison reform, these new rules could result in the release of as many as the initial 3,100 inmates freed upon the passing of the First Step Act in 2018

After it was signed into law, the First Step Act expanded prison programs that reduce recidivism, allows non-violent inmates to shave time off their sentences with such programs, in some cases reduces mandatory minimum sentencing, and creates more allowances for certain inmates to serve the rest of their sentences on home confinement or in other release programs. It also offers considerable improvements toward the treatment of juvenile inmates. 

The First Step Implementation Act 

The First Step Implementation Act of 2021, currently before congress, furthers the progress made by the act of 2018. Perhaps its biggest contribution would be allowing courts to shorten inmates’ sentences that were made prior to 2018. It would also reduce sentences for juvenile offenders who have already served 20 years, allow for the expungement of records of juvenile non-violent offenders, and enable courts to give sentences below mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses. 

There is large bipartisan support in the House and Senate for reforming the American prison system, which many representatives believe to be costly, overly punitive, and does little to reform convicts and readjust them to society. With the passage of the next step of the FSA, we could see the most significant progress made in prison reform of a generation. 


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