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senate Bill S. 3649

First Step Act: Reforming Federal Corrections and Sentencing Policies to Reduce Recidivism

Argument in favor

This bipartisan bill makes important reforms to the federal prison system to control costs while improving programs aimed at reducing recidivism when prisoners are released, including through substance abuse treatment and job training. It has important safeguards to ensure that particularly violent and dangerous criminals aren’t released early.

Shep22's Opinion
···
12/20/2018
In the interest of justice for all without
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Argument opposed

While the reforms to the federal prison system this bill offers may be worthwhile, it should be expanded to include reforms to shorten sentences for non-violent crime further. Alternatively, this bill would let too many inmates out of prison before they’ve reformed themselves, which would endanger public safety.

Patriot1775's Opinion
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12/13/2018
This is just some kind of feel good bill sponsored by those who haven't the faintest idea of what prisoners are like. There will be so many loopholes in the bill that you'll be able to drive a murderer through them. Who's going to do the vetting? The system is understaffed and overworked as it is. Why have a three strikes rule if you're not going to enforce it. How can a person who has committed 12 felonies not have struck out 4 times? There may be a little justification for getting someone out of prison on a non violent crime but it will in no way reduce recidivism. Just another dogooder bill.
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bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The house has not voted
  • The senate has not voted
    IntroducedNovember 15th, 2018

What is Senate Bill S. 3649?

This bill — the First Step Act — would implement reforms to the federal prison system to control corrections spending, manage the prison population, provide educational and vocational training to inmates so they can successfully re-enter society, and reduce recidivism. It’d also reform sentencing rules and Bureau of Prison (BOP) policies. A breakdown of the bill’s major provisions can be found below.

Recidivism Reduction

The BOP would be required to conduct risk- and needs-assessments for every offender upon sentencing and offer individualized, evidence-based recidivism reduction plans to all inmates. Programs could include vocational training, educational support, substance abuse treatment, mental healthcare, anger management courses, faith-based initiatives or other proven, productive activities.

Low- and minimum-risk inmates would be able to earn time credits toward prerelease custody or supervised release (like a halfway house or home confinement) at the end of their prison sentences. Inmates would earn 10 days of credit for each 30 day period of participation in recidivism reduction programs, while eligible prisoners whose recidivism risks haven’t increased over their last two assessments would get an additional 5 days of credit (for a total of 15 days credit earned per participation period). A prisoner could only be placed in supervised release for a period of 12 months or less, and if they commit a non-technical violation of the conditions for their release it would be revoked.

Certain inmates would be ineligible for time credits, including those convicted of:

  • Terrorism;

  • Murder;

  • Sexual exploitation of children;

  • Espionage;

  • Violent firearms offenses;

  • Organizing, managing, or supervising the methamphetamine, fentanyl, or heroin drug trade;

  • Smuggling unauthorized immigrants with records of aggravated felonies to the U.S.;

  • Importing unauthorized immigrants for prostitution;

  • Female genital mutilation;

  • Drug-related robberies involving assault with a dangerous weapon;

  • Carjacking resulting in serious bodily injury;

  • Threatening to murder a congressman, senator, or government official;

  • Assault of a spouse, intimate partner or dating partner by strangling, suffocating or resulting in substantial bodily injury;

  • Arson;

  • Domestic assault by a habitual offender;

  • Providing or possessing contraband, including firearms, in prison;

  • Rioting in a correctional facility;

  • Felonies committed while in a criminal street gang;

  • Escaping from prison;

  • Unlawful conduct related to documents furthering trafficking, peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, or forced labor;

  • Failure to register as a sex offender.

Additionally, unauthorized immigrant inmates who are subject to a deportation order would be ineligible to earn time credits.

Sentencing Reform

This section of the bill would reduce prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders while tightening penalties for violent and career offenders. It would also provide more judicial discretion in the process of sentencing and helping inmates re-enter society.

Enhanced mandatory minimums for prior drug felons would be reduced. The three-strike mandatory penalty from life imprisonment to 25 years, while the 20-year mandatory minimum would be reduced to 15 years. Additionally, the offenses that trigger enhanced mandatory minimum sentences would be reformed to include any prior drug felonies that occurred within the last 15 years, or serious violent felonies.

The “safety valve” that allows judges to authorize a sentence below the statutory minimum for non-violent, low-level drug offenders would be broadened if the offender:

  • Has up to 4 criminal history points (those with prior “3-point” felony convictions with sentences over 13 months or prior “2-point” violent offenses with 60+ day sentences would be ineligible);

  • Didn’t use violence or possess any dangerous weapon;

  • Didn’t commit an offense resulting in death or serious bodily injury;

  • Wasn’t an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor of others in the offense;

  • Has fully cooperated with law enforcement in providing all information and evidence related to their crimes.

Prison Reform

This section of the bill would enact several reforms aimed at improving conditions for inmates, such as:

  • The compassionate elderly release provision of the Second Chance Act, which allows the prisoner to request his or her compassionate release if they meet the law’s requirements, would be reauthorized.

  • BOP rules on the use of restraints on pregnant inmates — which generally prohibit the use of restraints on pregnant inmates except for those who are an immediate and credible flight risk or threat of harm to herself, the baby, or others — would be codified into law.

  • BOP would be required to place prisoners at a correctional facility within 500 driving miles of their primary residence that’s as close to home as possible unless the prisoner chooses to remain at their current facility. Prisoners with a security designation higher than the facilities closest to their primary residence wouldn’t be transferred to a lower-security prison because of this provision.

  • The federal prison industries program would be expanded to provide more employment opportunities for inmates.

  • BOP would be required to start pilot programs for youth mentorship and the training and therapy of rescue dogs, and it would also have to evaluate the current pilot program to treat heroin and opioid abuse through medication-assisted treatment.

  • BOP would be required to provide feminine hygiene products at no cost.

  • There would be required dyslexia screening and treatment.

The use of juvenile solitary confinement would be restricted for any reason other than as a temporary response to behavior posing a serious and immediate risk of physical harm. BOP staff would be required to use the least restrictive techniques, including talking with the juvenile, and attempt to get them care by a qualified mental health professional. If solitary confinement is necessary, BOP staff would fully inform the juvenile about it, and the maximum term of confinement would depend on the risk of immediate physical harm.

The BOP would be required to provide a secure storage area outside the secure facility perimeter for employees to store firearms or to allow for vehicle lock boxes for firearms so corrections officers can protect themselves if they’re ambushed when leaving work. BOP employees could carry concealed firearms on the premises outside the secured perimeter of the facility. BOP would also be required to offer de-escalation training as part of the regular training requirements of correctional officers.

Impact

Prisoners and their families; corrections officers and BOP employees; communities and crime victims; and the BOP.

Cost of Senate Bill S. 3649

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-Depth: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) offered the following statement on this criminal justice reform package:

“Over the last several years, we’ve expanded support for comprehensive criminal justice reform by listening to stakeholders and lawmakers to strike a balance that reduces crime and recidivism, and the associated taxpayer burden, while ensuring that dangerous and career criminals face steep consequences for their actions. Today’s update represents the latest in our effort to achieve this goal. I appreciate the engagement from many of my colleagues to fine tune the most significant criminal justice reform in a generation, and I applaud President Trump and the White House for bringing everyone to the table to make this happen. Following these changes and the growing demonstration of support for this bill, Leader McConnell is keeping his word by pledging to hold a vote this year.”

Original cosponsor Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) added:

“The bipartisan First Step Act is a once in a political lifetime aligning of the stars. Republicans, Democrats, President Trump, Fraternal Order of Police, and ACLU have all thrown their support behind our bill. This bipartisan compromise could be one of the most important things we do when it comes to criminal justice not only this year but for a long time. I commend my colleagues for their spirit of cooperation on this important piece of legislation and I look forward to getting this job done in the closing weeks of this session.”

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) said that while he supports recidivism reduction, he believes this bill would grant too many dangerous offenders an early release:

“Up to 2,500 serious drug traffickers are going to be released almost immediately within weeks or months of this bill passing. It is an almost mathematical certainty that someone is going to commit a heinous crime if this bill passes.”

This legislation has the support of at least 35 cosponsors in the Senate, in addition to the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, Cut50, the National District Attorneys Association, the Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime & Incarceration, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

This legislation is the Senate’s version of a criminal justice reform bill the House passed (also known as the FIRST STEP Act) on a 360-59 vote in May 2018.


Media:

Summary by Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: iStock.com / thevinman)

AKA

First Step Act

Official Title

To provide for programs to help reduce the risk that prisoners will recidivate upon release from prison, and for other purposes.

    In the interest of justice for all without
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    I've begun to read this bill and it looks really good on paper but my concern is the motive. It seems too good to be true and as such I'm curious whose pockets are preparing to get lined? There are several organizations that have been working with individuals trying to re-acclimate back into life outside of prison and there is no mention of any of them and I'm curious why they aren't involved in the development of this bill. Our current prison system institutionalizes folks, it isn't about restorative rehabilitation. So why aren't we starting there instead? This is sketchy so I've decided read the bill to better understand it.
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    It is time to have Justice for ALL! It is unfathomable that 924c has been fixed, without correcting past disproportionate sentencing. #MustBeRetro #StopStacking
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    This is just some kind of feel good bill sponsored by those who haven't the faintest idea of what prisoners are like. There will be so many loopholes in the bill that you'll be able to drive a murderer through them. Who's going to do the vetting? The system is understaffed and overworked as it is. Why have a three strikes rule if you're not going to enforce it. How can a person who has committed 12 felonies not have struck out 4 times? There may be a little justification for getting someone out of prison on a non violent crime but it will in no way reduce recidivism. Just another dogooder bill.
    Like
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    Share