A major prison reform bill is closer to becoming law after overwhelming support in the US Senate. If is becomes law, many federal prisoners in Kentucky may see an early release. The president is expected to sign the legislation.
The bill is commonly called the First Step Act. The bill seeks to reform harsh prison sentencing guidelines that were originally enacted in the 1980s. Many federal crimes, especially drug crimes, carry lengthy prison sentences. Often these sentences are in excess of ten years for a nonviolent offense. Many believe these sentences are a reason the US has one of the highest inmate populations in the world. Over 175,000 inmates are housed in federal prisons.
The bill is good news for those in favor of prison reform and for those accused of federal crimes. But is only applies to incarceration in federal institutions. The vast majority of prisons are confined in state facilities, administered by state law.
The bipartisan legislation has two main components. First, it seeks to reduce sentences of nonviolent offenders. Not all crimes are included in the reduced sentencing guidelines. Most crimes where violence was involved are excluded.
The second portion of the bill seeks to decrease the rate of recidivism for federal offenders. It requires the US Attorney General to reform the ‘good time” credits system and encourage prison programs to make the transition from prison easier. Inmates will be eligible for reduced prison time when participating in programs such as mentoring, education and job training. The bill also seeks to use half way homes and home detention as alternative means of confinement.
For those facing federal charges or presently confined in federal prison, a consultation with a criminal defense attorney might be considered. The attorney may explain how the bill might affect them and what steps should be taken to take advantage of its provisions.