It is no secret that the United States has the highest rate of imprisonment in the developed world. This is not, contrary to popular belief, a necessarily bad thing. The U.S. recidivism rate is 76%, meaning 76% of released federal criminals end up committing another crime upon release. It makes sense to keep convicts and violent offenders in prison considering there is a high chance of future crimes.
Some may argue our record low violent crime rate is because we keep violent criminals off the street.
A massive prison population is not ideal to most people. Prison reform has been a big issue among the Democratic Party, and now most Republicans feel something too should be done.
Despite the sharp rise in total incarceration over the past several decades, the U.S. prison population rate is at a 20 year low. It peaked in 2008 at at 1,000 people per 100,000 adults, but is now 860 per 100,000 adults.
Even with the push to lower incarceration, nothing had been done on the legislative level. It was all done through the executive branch. That was until now.
With overwhelming support in both the House and Senate, the First Step Act was passed on the 21st. The primary target of this piece is lowering recidivism, and early release for reformed prisoners.
With 20% of prisoners serving sentences for drug crimes, decriminalizing of marijuana, and mandating rehab over prison for other drug offenders should be the logical next step in a long term prison reform movement.
Under Section 102 of the First Step Act, we see the main purpose of the bill is to provide the “opportunity to actively participate in evidence-based recidivism reduction programs or productive activities, according to their specific criminogenic needs, throughout their entire term of incarceration.” People already imprisoned will be provided with job training, psychological help, faith-based and moral classes, and rehab programs to name a few.
Prisoners who complete these programs and have the approval of the warden will be eligible for early release.
Many conservative critics feel this bill will simply allow violent criminals to ‘cheat the system’ and reduce their sentence by completing a few classes. They would rather have violent criminals remain locked up with minimal opportunity for early release. Wardens may have an incentive to reduce prison population and use much more broad and loose discretion in these decisions.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, addresses these concerns. The bill targets low-risk individuals and provides programs specifically designed by the Department of Justice to reduce recidivism. The programs are geared towards making the already low risk prisoner, usually nonviolent offenders, more capable of re-entering society upon release. Remember the 76% recidivism rate? The First Step Act addresses this problem while attempting to keep dangerous individuals locked up.
People convicted of serious crimes would not be eligible for the term-reducing credits from completing the programs. This should put many critics at ease.
This prison reform where inmates earn early release through learning ways to reenter society and addressing the very issues which led to them choosing a life of crime is likely only the first step (pun intended). Bail reform and sentencing reform are also on the table for many. Only time will tell how effective these measures are.
Categories: U.S. News