In December, the President of the United States signed the First Step Act, a criminal justice bill enacting numerous reforms to the federal U.S. criminal justice system. The two main features of the law are improvements to federal prison conditions, such as incentives for participating in vocational and rehabilitation programs, expanding good time credits, and improving overall federal prison conditions; and changes to minimum sentencing guidelines as they relate to certain drug crimes. This first post will examine the first part of the First Step Act reforms. Check back next week for the second part of this series.
Good Time Credits Defined
Inmates who maintain good behavior while imprisoned are eligible for a reduction in their sentence, or incarceration period, when prison time is part of their sentence. The inmate, while serving his or her sentence, collects good conduct time or good time credit that can be used to reduce a prison sentence. The first two reforms discussed in this post focus on the accumulation of good time credit, an incentive program for currently incarcerated and future incarcerated individuals, for certain behavior such as participation on vocational programs or continued good conduct.
Expanding Education Programs for Incarcerated People
Under the new law, inmates who participate in and successfully complete vocational and rehabilitative programs while in federal prison can earn good time credits that would permit them to petition for early release from federal prison to halfway houses or home confinement. This provision will apply to current and future inmates.
Awarding Good Time Credits
Good behavior, while in federal prison, is rewarded. Under the old law, an inmate could receive up to 47 days off of his or her prison sentence per year for good behavior while in prison by avoiding a disciplinary record. The new law expands the good time credit to a maximum of 54 days off of a prison sentence per year. The increase to the good time credit bank also applies retroactively, so current inmates as well as future inmates will be able to reduce their sentences for good behavior.
Improve Federal Prison Conditions for Inmates
Incarcerated people are subject to prison conditions that many argue are inhumane. Under the new law, female inmates will no longer be shackled during childbirth, unless they pose a risk to the safety of the corrections officers or medical personnel attending to them during childbirth. Using restraints on inmates during their pregnancy, labor, and postpartum recovery period is now banned.
The second reform under this provision is placing inmates in prison facilities closer to their families or home bases. Many families with incarcerated loved ones must travel hundreds of miles to visit them. The trip is costly and severely affects the lives of family members who are assisting incarcerated people.
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