The First Step Act applies to federal court cases. Prior to the enactment of the FSA, the mandatory minimums for repeat offenders were sometimes life sentences. The FSA has reduced those minimums along with the minimums for multiple other non-violent crimes. In addition, prior to the FSA, it was very difficult for non-violent offenders to get their records expunged. This could have negative effects on their career, housing prospects, and overall life.
Whether you have been charged, are the subject of an investigation, or have been convicted of a non-violent drug offense already, it’s vital that you talk to a federal attorney about what the FSA might mean for you.
Important Aspects of the FSA
There are numerous topics covered in the FSA statute. Because the law is bipartisan, it has very complex language. The different provisions may seem complicated, but the overall statute can be summarized with three core components.
The first is that the Bureau of Prisons will establish an assessment system for the risk and needs of prisoners. The second is that mandatory minimums are changed for certain federal offenses as a means of sentencing reform. The third is that the Second Chance Act of 2007 has been authorized again.
While these are great things in theory, it can be confusing to understand how they’re applied in practice. Here are some of the ways that the First Step Act changes the justice system.
With this legislation, federal judges are allowed to sentence defendants to shorter prison sentences than the mandatory minimums. While this was previously allowed on a technicality, the language has now been coded into law.
The mandatory minimums in the statutes have been significantly reduced. One specific stipulation is that there are reduced sentences for repeat offenders. Repeat offenses come with significantly more intense prison sentences than first-time offenses.
The legislation creates a system of “time credits” that can be earned by federal prisoners. This allows them to be placed into pre-release custody early. For example, they may be released from prison and placed on house arrest instead. This is applicable to both non-drug-related and drug-related federal offenses.
Not every prisoner will be able to earn these credits. Some crimes exempt the convict from the time credit program. However, these people can complete recidivism reduction programs to earn benefits like additional visitation privileges. These are highly motivational tools that help rehabilitate prisoners.
The legislation also revives old programs that were created by the Second Chance Act. Some of the programs have undergone modifications. They now help federal convicts undergo substance abuse recovery programs. They also give convicts access to career training and mentoring programs, as well as programs that help streamline the reentry into mainstream society following time in prison.
Sentencing Reform Explained
There are specific changes that have been made to the minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses. These include:
- Repeat offenders with one prior conviction have a 15 year sentence instead of 20 years.
- Repeat offenders with two prior convictions have a 25 year sentence instead of a life sentence.
- No mandatory minimum sentence can be imposed for a repeat offense unless the first conviction was for a serious violent crime or a serious drug crime.
Serious drug crimes are defined as crimes that have maximum prison sentences of ten or more years. The convict must have served more than 12 months in prison and must have been released from prison within 15 years of their second offense. People who have committed violent felonies must also have served at least 12 months in prison.
Another change is that there is more leeway for judges to give first offenders discretionary sentencing. This mostly applies to people with clean criminal records who are committed to turning their lives around. The judge may waive the mandatory minimums in these cases.