Fact Sheet: The FIRST STEP Act

Syrita Bowen News, Press

At a time when our nation feels more divided than ever, one thing nearly all Americans agree on is the need to fix our broken criminal justice system. The FIRST STEP Act represents the most meaningful federal criminal justice reform bill our country has seen in decades.

The “lock ’em up and throw away the key” policies of the ’80s and ’90s failed us, and dozens of red and blue states have already passed these reforms, safely reduced their prison populations, and simultaneously lowered their crime rates.

These reforms are also enormously popular with the public, including a majority of Republican voters. 

It’s time for Congress to look outside the Beltway, and pay attention to the common sense reforms happening in their own backyards. With the bipartisan leadership of Senators Chuck Grassley and Dick Durbin, we have the opportunity to pass the most groundbreaking, bipartisan criminal justice bill in a generation. 

The President has endorsed it. The votes are there to pass it. The American people want it. So, contact Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn and tell them to let us vote on the FIRST STEP Act. You can call the Leader’s DC office at (202) 224-2541 or reach out to his Kentucky offices listed here. You can also call Sen. Cornyn’s office at (202) 224-2934.

–Holly Harris, Executive Director, Justice Action Network 

What does the FIRST STEP Act do?

  • Adjusts BOP good time credit calculation for following prison rules from 47 days to 54 days of good time credit per year (to comport with current law). *The change would be retroactive*
  • Allows certain prisoners to earn 10 days of time credits for each 30 days of successful participation in recidivism reduction programming or activities, including prison jobs. Allows these prisoners to apply their time credits to transfers into pre-release custody, which includes halfway houses and home confinement. Certain inmates are excluded from earning credits, including violent offenders, sex offenders, leaders or organizers of fentanyl or heroin trafficking rings, etc.
  • Requires the Bureau of Prisons to place incarcerated people within 500 driving miles of their home or families, if security classification and bed space allow it.
  • Reauthorizes an elderly prisoner early release pilot program from the Second Chance Act of 2007, allowing elderly and elderly terminally ill prisoners to be released from prison early if they are at least 60 years old, have served 2/3 of their sentences, and meet all of the other requirements.
  • Authorizes $75 million in funding per year over five years for rehabilitation and risk-reduction programs.
  • Provides incentives for participation in rehabilitation programs for people not eligible for early release, including transfer to a prison closer to their home and family, expanded time for visits, increased phone and email time, and higher commissary account limits.
  • Bans the shackling of women who are pregnant, in delivery, or in postpartum recovery.
  • Guarantees free access to appropriate levels feminine hygiene products.
  • Requires the Bureau of Prisons to help get people government ID cards and birth certificates before they leave prison.
  • Directs the DOJ to establish a risk and needs assessment system to assess and classify the recidivism risk of prisoners; to guide housing, grouping, and program assignments; and to incentivize and reward participation in and completion of programming and productive activities.
  • Requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to audit the risk- and needs-assessment system, and creates an Independent Review Committee with members selected by the National Institute of Justice.
  • Increases data collection requirement for the National Prisoner Statistics Program, and requires the Bureau of Prisons to report on addiction treatment through evidence-based programs, including medication-assisted treatment.
  • Expands Federal Prison Industries.
  • Requires BOP to expand programs quickly, and have programs in place for all eligible incarcerated people within three years.
  • Limits the use of juvenile solitary confinement
  • Reduces “three strikes” sentencing enhancements for individuals with prior convictions who are convicted of a new serious drug felony offense or serious violent felony offense. The current 20-year mandatory minimum enhancement for one prior conviction would be lowered to 15 years, and the current penalty of life for two or more prior convictions would be reduced to 25 years. The proposed reform is prospective, not retroactive.
  • Expands “safety-valve” for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders.
  • Makes the Fair Sentencing Act (2010), which reduced the disparity in sentencing for crack and cocaine offenses, retroactive. Eligible individuals will be able to petition a court for resentencing on an individual basis.
  • Refines repeat offender gun penalties under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) to apply to offenders who have previously convicted and completed a prison term for the applicable offense.