Just in time for the holidays, the Senate has passed a bill that adjusts federal criminal sentencing guidelines in an effort that required serious bipartisan work. The “FIRST STEP Act” was passed by an overwhelming majority of the Senate and now goes to the House where Republican and Democratic lawmakers say they are ready to vote and send it to the President, who has previously said he would sign it into law.
Once signed, the FIRST STEP Act (short for Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act) will be much discussed in the coming weeks and months as federal systems begin to implement federal sentencing reform. One of the most critical elements of the law is the reauthorization of the Second Chance Act, including $75 million in each of the next five years for job training, drug treatment, mentoring and other reentry efforts to reduce recidivism.
While there is some disagreement in criminal justice reform circles as to the efficacy of this bill, there is some consensus that it is at least a first step in addressing disparities in sentencing for nonviolent offenders and improving outcomes for people post-incarceration. As Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) said “Our prisons should be more than just a warehouse for human beings; they should also serve as places where they have the opportunity, once they’ve made a mistake and served their time, to transform their own lives into productive citizens.”
Organizations and communities seeking to support individuals to succeed post-incarceration should be on the lookout for grant and program opportunities to stem from the act, which is among the last laws to pass before new lawmakers begin in January. The 87-12 vote in the Senate indicates one of the most remarkable gifts the country has received from Congress in this session – at least some bipartisanship to ring in the New Year.