The New York Times reported on December 11, 2018 that the US Senate will vote on a new criminal justice bill before the end of the year. The bill has bipartisan support, a rarity in Congress these days. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky agreed to submit the bill, titled the First Step Act. The bill also has support in the House of Representatives and by President Trump.
Today, December 21, 2018, President Trump signed the bill into law.
What is this new law?
The aim of the law is to amend some of the toughest provisions of prior criminal justice and sentencing laws. The law, according to another New York Times report, only affects people in federal prisons, about 10% of the current prison population in the United States.
Some of the features include:
- Expanding opportunities for early release. This includes the release of people who would have been released instead of imprisoned for drug-related crimes today. It also includes the potential release of nearly 2,000 people for some mandatory minimum sentences.
- Changes to the sentencing laws. The law marginally changes how many people can avoid mandatory minimum sentences. It reduces the three-strikes penalty from life in prison to 25 years. The three-strikes rule applies to anyone found guilty of a severe violent felony and two other criminal convictions.
- Allocating funds for anti-recidivism programs. Many people convicted of crimes commit other crimes after they are released.
- Slightly larger good behavior credits. The law allows for for 54 days, compared to 47 days, off a sentence each year.
Support and concerns for the First Step Act
The law has the support of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Fraternal Order of Police who, like many others, see the criminal justice system as both unfair and very expensive. Both conservatives and liberals are seeing that the war on crime could be better handled as being “smart on crime.” Many sentences don’t reflect the crimes that were committed. Blacks are disproportionately treated harshly.
Supporters for changing the criminal justice system are concerned:
- That American incarcerates many more people than other countries even though crime “has been on the decline for more than two decades.”
- There is evidence that the criminal justice system is causing higher recidivism (repeat offenders). Studies that show even a small prison stay can make someone more likely to commit a crime.
- That the cost to run prisons is very high.
Some legislators felt the bill needed to include changes that won’t cause the release of violent prisoners. Others thoughtthe bill doesn’t go nearly far enough to address unfair and unnecessary treatment of people convicted of crimes. Those who want more reform assert:
- Shorter sentences, home monitoring, and even no monitoring would help. This assertion is in part because many people convicted of crimes could benefit better if they were treated for mental illness or addiction.
- Giving defense lawyers better resources to help.
- There should be fewer criminal offenses.
Experience mattes. When your life or liberty is at stake, you need aggressive lawyers who will assert every criminal defense possible. At Delius & McKenzie, PLLC, we’ve been fighting for the accused in and around Sevierville for several decades. To make an appointment, please call us at (865) 428-8780 or use our contact form. We represent defendants in Sevierville, Seymour, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the surrounding areas.