A Year After First Step, Is Further Reform in the Cards?

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photo courtesy first step.org

With more than 4,700 people released or having their prison terms shortened under the nearly year-old federal First Step Act, advocates and observers say the next challenge is to strike a consensus for the harder reforms that need to be accomplished in the U.S. justice system.

“I think the biggest win is that this is now a safe issue after years and years and years of the two parties trying to use criminal justice as a way to tear each other down,” said Jessica Jackson, co-founder of #cut50, a criminal justice reform nonprofit.

But some are skeptical the alliance can hold.

Many of the next steps advocates have underscored as necessary to bring about true change, such as reexamining lengthy sentences for violent offenses and restructuring policing practices, may be a tougher sell, NBC News reports.

“It’s easier to kind of agree on some of the low-hanging fruits, but the higher you reach, the more difficult consensus is going to be,” said Tim Head of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a conservative nonprofit that supports criminal justice reform efforts.

The effects of the First Step Act’s relaxing of the “three strikes” rule to mean a 25-year sentence, rather than life in prison, for three or more convictions are difficult to measure. Meanwhile, roughly 16,000 federal prisoners have enrolled in drug treatment programs created by the act. Advocates say that overall, the law represents a major shift in thinking.

“It’s part of wider system transformation from one that was based on gut instinct and anecdotes and headlines to decisions that are made based on evidence and research,” said Adam Gelb of the Council on Criminal Justice.

“It’s understandable that people are frustrated with the pace of progress.”

At the same time, the criminal justice system is massive and fragmented. And it’s going to continue to take some time to build the political will to tackle many of the more difficult issues.”

 

Additional Reading:  Trump Sees First Step Act as Political Dud

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