First Step Act Cut Sentences for 1,051 Fed Prisoners in Four Months: Report

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Just over 1,000 individuals incarcerated in federal prisons were granted sentence reductions in the four months since the First Step Act was signed into law, according to the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC).

Their sentences were reduced by a mean of 73 months or 29.4 percent, as a result of the resentencing provisions allowed under the Act which, in addition to shortening mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offense, applied resentencing to be applied retroactively to individuals convicted of crack cocaine offenses before 2010—when the federal government reduced disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses.

The USSC found that over a quarter of the 1,051 resentencing motions were granted by federal courts in Florida, South Carolina and Virginia.

Over 91 percent of the individuals whose sentences were shortened were African American and 98 percent were male, the USSC said.

The average age of those granted resentencing motions was 45—and the average at original sentence was 32.

The 2010 re-set of the crack-powder cocaine disparity, under the Fair Sentencing Act passed that year, disparity was aimed at tackling the disproportionate racial impact on nonviolent drug offenders.

The First Step Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump on Dec. 21, 2018, was the first major overhaul of the nation’s sentencing regime in decades. More ambitious overhaul plans had been stalled in Congress, despite widespread bipartisan support.

Although many observers called it a “modest step,” it was a considered “the starting point” for future legislation aimed at reducing mass incarceration, according to New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.

“Federal mandatory minimum sentences were a catalyst for the recent surge of unnecessarily harsh prison sentences,” the Center said in its analysis of the Act last year, noting that the federal prison population has risen by more than 700 percent since 1980.

More than two-thirds of federal prisoners were serving a life sentence or a “virtual life sentence” as a result of a conviction for a non-violent crime, the Center said.

The First Step Act also replaced a federal “ three strikes” rule — which imposed a life sentence for three or more convictions—with a 25-year sentence; and it expanded the “drug safety-valve,” which would give judges more discretion to deviate from mandatory minimums when sentencing for nonviolent drug offenses.

The USSC’s complete report can be downloaded here.

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