BREAKING NEWS: Senate Approves First Step Act

December 19, 2018

Yesterday, December 18, 2018, The United States Senate, by a vote of 87 to 12, has approved the First Step Act. This is the first substantial revision of federal sentencing law and federal prison programs since 1994. It clearly will help many federal inmates get released early and certainly many defendants yet to be sentenced will benefit. As of this writing, the Bill needs to go back to the House of Representatives for a “reconciliation’ vote (certainly will be approved) then signed by the President. It will go into effect before the end of the year. The Act will do the following:

  1. The bill would make retroactive the reforms enacted by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences at the federal level. This could affect nearly 2,600 federal inmates.
  2. The bill would take several steps to ease mandatory minimum sentences under federal law. It would expand the “safety valve” that judges can use to avoid handing down mandatory minimum sentences. It would ease a “three strikes” rule so people with three or more convictions, including for drug offenses, automatically get 25 years instead of life, among other changes. It would restrict the current practice of stacking gun charges against drug offenders to add possibly decades to prison sentences.
  3. The bill would increase “good time credits” that inmates can earn. Inmates who avoid a disciplinary record can currently get credits of up to 47 days per year incarcerated. The bill increases the cap to 54, allowing well-behaved inmates to cut their prison sentence by an additional week for each year they’re incarcerated. The change would apply retroactively, but does not go into effect until July 19, 2019.
  4. The bill would allow many inmates to get “earned time credits” by participating in additional vocational and rehabilitative programs. Those credits would allow them to be released significantly earlier to halfway houses or home confinement.
  5. Would allow inmates or their representatives to file a motion directly with the court for Compassionate Release rather than only permitting the BOP from doing so.

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