Prison Reform has been on the political agenda for both Democrats and Republicans decades but rarely do we see reform that will fully transform our prison system on a legislative level. We lose hope or we forget to fight for the incarcerated because they are unseen due to residing behind bars. Behind closed door, reform has been in the works to save both tax payers and the incarcerated time and money through a decrease in recidivism.
Below you will find out what prison reform bills are active, in progress and what you can do in your state to keep reform moving forward.
The First Step Act
Year of introduction: 2018 (Partially Passed)
On December 21, 2018, President Trump signed into law the First Step Act of 2018 , the most significant, bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation in more than a decade. This Act is designed to:
1. Reduce certain criminal penalties and the risk of recidivism by former inmates. The Act also includes numerous recidivism-reducing provisions.
2. Increasing inmate access to pre-release custody so that they can finish portions of their sentences in the community.
3. Expanding the Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) program to assist and treat inmates with opioid use disorders.
4. Increasing the availability of evidence-based, recidivism reducing programs, such as vocational training, life skills development, and mental health treatment.
Prison Reform and Redemption Act
Year of introduction: 2017 (Passed)
This bill directs the Department of Justice to develop the Post-Sentencing Risk and Needs Assessment System for use by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to assess prisoner recidivism risk. This includes creating an accessible guide for housing, grouping, and program assignments. Incentivizes and rewards for participation in and completion of recidivism reduction programs and productive activities. This bill:
1. Requires the BOP to implement the Post-Sentencing Risk and Needs Assessment System.
2. Establish prerelease custody procedures for prisoners who earn time credits for successfully completing recidivism reduction programs.
3. Prohibits the use of restraints on federal prisoners who are pregnant or in postpartum recovery.
4. Broaden the duties of probation and pretrial services officers to include court-directed supervision of sex offenders conditionally released from civil commitment.
5. Prohibits monitoring the contents of an electronic communication between a prisoner at a BOP facility and the prisoner’s attorney.
With is bill, the Bureau of Prisons is legally obligated to:
1. Incorporate de-escalation techniques into its training programs.
2. Report on its ability to treat heroin and opioid abuse through medication-assisted treatment.
3. Establish pilot programs on youth mentorship and service to abandoned, rescued, or vulnerable animals.
4. Designates a release preparation coordinator at each facility that houses prisoners.
End For-Profit Prisons Act of 2017
Year of introduction: 2017 (Passed)
This bill requires the Department of Justice (DOJ) to phase out existing contracts with private prison companies and private community confinement facilities. This bill:
1. Prohibits the BOP from entering into or maintaining contracts with private companies to manage community confinement facilities (e.g., halfway houses).
2. DOJ must evaluate the effectiveness of and develop guidelines for programs to improve community reintegration at community confinement facilities.
3. The Marshals Service must annually inspect each correctional facility it uses for confinement.
4. The BOP must provide to prisoners, as part of prerelease procedures, information and counseling about: criminal record expungement; educational, employment, and treatment programs; and applications for public assistance programs.
5. The BOP must also provide prisoners with post-release information about fines, assessments, surcharges, restitution, and other penalties.
Ending Mandatory Minimum Sentences
Year of introduction: 2015 (Passed)
The bill with probably the greatest impact. Chaired by retired state Supreme Court Justice Deborah Poritz, called for an ending to mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of nonviolent drug and property crimes, such as shoplifting. It would also reduce the mandatory prison terms for second degree robbery and burglary to half of the sentence imposed. Some of the commission’s other recommendations, such as a compassion release program and implementing a new mitigating sentencing factor for young offenders, are embodied in other bills that passed last Thursday. The stipulations for this law includes:
- Provisions for “geriatric parole” for nonviolent offenders age 65 and older who have completed at least a third of a sentence.
- Expand a municipal court conditional dismissal program to include those charged with some drug offenses and allow for the dismissal of those charges after one year’s probation.
- Replace the state’s current medical release program, which has led to the medical parole of only one inmate a year over the last five years, with a “compassionate release” system. The new program would provide for a court to release an inmate with a grave medical condition, terminal disease or permanent physical incapacity. The Assembly passed the bill, 68-2.
- Require the state corrections commissioner to conduct a study to determine the financial impact of the pending compassionate release program and elimination of mandatory minimum sentences.
- Authorize the state Supreme Court to issue an order to retroactively rescind mandatory minimum terms of parole ineligibility for nonviolent drug and property crimes and to modify some other conviction judgments.
- Provide for resentencing certain inmates who committed a crime as a juvenile and were tried as an adult, were sentenced to 30 years or more, have served at least 20 years and have not previously been resentenced.
- Requires law enforcement agencies to establish minority recruitment and selection programs.
- Requires the state Division of Parole to offer parole services to certain defendants who have served their maximum sentence.
- Requires law enforcement agencies to provide law enforcement officers with cultural diversity training and develop a diversity action plan that would include outreach into the community and forming partnerships with organizations to prevent discrimination.
- Requires the state attorney general to collect and report certain prosecutorial and criminal justice data from arrest through the disposition of a case by race, gender, age and ethnicity of defendants.
Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015
Year of introduction: 2015 (Passed)
This bill would ease some federal sentencing guidelines for drug-related crimes, create new mandatory minimum sentences for other crimes. The bill would allow some current prisoners held on drug-related convictions to have their sentences reduced. Under this bill:
1. Reevaluate individual cases of mandatory sentences that are currently issued under the federal “three strikes” law for people convicted of three drug-related crimes that can be potentially reduced from a life sentence to a mandatory minimum of 25 years.
2.The mandatory minimum sentence for a second drug conviction would also be reduced from 20 years to 15 years.
3. Judges would also get more discretion to issue sentences below the statutory minimums for defendants who have not been involved in violent crimes.
4. Retroactively reduce sentences for inmates who were sentenced under the rigid guidelines for crack possession that were required by federal law until 2011.
5. Establish new mandatory minimums for crimes related to domestic violence that would range from 10 years to life imprisonment depending on the seriousness of the crime.
6. Create a new mandatory minimum of 5 years for people convicted of providing certain “controlled good or services” to groups and individuals designated as terrorists or any person affiliated with a program to develop weapons of mass destruction.
7. Creates a recidivism reduction program that inmates could participate in in exchange for small reductions to their sentence.
8. Offers limitations on solitary confinement for juveniles.
9. Offers compassionate release for some non-violent elderly offenders.
10. Offers a prerelease custody program that would allow inmates to spend some time in a reentry program before being fully released.
We still have a long way to go to make sure the introduction of these bills are being honored and enforced. The United States is still to date, leading in incarceration and private prisons. If you have any questions about the article above, please feel free to write a comment and we will get back to you promptly.
Check out the video below to better understand why we need prison reform.