The Justice Department has begun putting a key aspect of the First Step Act into effect, after delays prompted in part by the partial government shutdown and turnover at the top of the department, reports the New York Times. Attorney General William Barr said the department had chosen the Hudson Institute, a conservative research group, to host an independent review committee to help create tools to reduce recidivism and programs for federal prisoners to earn credits toward early release. The attorney general was supposed to designate a committee host within 30 days of the passage of the law in December.
Putting the law into practice became complicated when the government partly shut down one day after Congress passed the bill and sent it to President Trump to sign into law, and many of the Justice Department employees who would have worked to fulfill it went on furlough. The shutdown lasted through the end of January. That gave officials just over two months to start carrying out a complicated piece of legislation. The law expands job training and other efforts aimed at reducing recidivism rates, expands early-release programs and modifies sentencing laws. In the weeks before the bill was passed, Trump forced Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign and replaced him on an interim basis with Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’s chief of staff. Sessions and Whitaker were seen as hostile to much of the bill. The National Institute of Justice said it was “contracting with outside experts and leading researchers,” including Grant Duwe of the Minnesota Department of Corrections, Zachary Hamilton of the Washington State Institute for Criminal Justice and Angela Hawken of New York University’s Marron Institute to develop risk assessment guidelines for federal prisoners, the Justice Department said.