WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed the bipartisan First Step Act this week, legislation to reduce recidivism and improve fairness in sentencing of federal crimes.  

“The First Step Act will reduce recidivism, improve fairness in federal sentencing and help low-risk inmates prepare to rejoin society.  I also believe the First Step Act will help women, especially mothers, in our justice system by addressing their unique needs,” said Senator Joni Ernst, an original cosponsor of the First Step Act.

On Tuesday, December 18, 2018 the U.S. Senate passed the bipartisan First Step Act. The legislation was approved by a vote of 87-12.  The First Step Act will now go to the United States House of Representatives for a vote, and then, if passed, to President Trump’s desk for signature. 

The First Step Act aims to improve fairness by: recalibrating certain mandatory minimum sentences; providing greater discretion for judges in sentencing of low-level, nonviolent drug crimes; and, clarifying congressional intent on sentencing enhancements for certain crimes involving firearms.  

The comprehensive and bipartisan legislation provides opportunities for low-risk inmates to rejoin society, while ensuring that dangerous criminals stay behind bars.  Under The First Step Act, each inmate is evaluated using data-driven risk and needs assessment tools and only those who are found to be low or minimum risk may benefit from earned time credits.  Conviction for a number of serious offenses disqualifies inmates from earning time credits.

Earned time credits created by the bill do not reduce an inmate’s sentence.  Rather, they allow the inmate to serve out a portion of the term in pre-release custody.  Inmates that are eligible only receive the credits upon successful completion of the evidence-based recidivism reduction and professional development programs. These are created by the Attorney General, in conjunction with an independent review committee selected by the National Institute of Justice.  

There is an overwhelming trend over the past few decades that shows women, especially mothers, going to prison at higher and higher rates.  Women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population, outpacing men by more than 50 percent since 1980, and about two-thirds of incarcerated women are mothers to children under the age of 18.

The First Step Act is backed by a number of organizations, including: