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May 23, 2023

Criminal Justice Reforms

Efforts to advance First Step Act Goals

The First Step Act (FSA), the most significant federal criminal justice reform passed in a decade.

The First Step Act (FSA), the most significant federal criminal justice reform passed in a decade.

On April 20, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) reintroduced a series of new bills intended to fill in gaps left by the passage of the First Step Act in 2018, a package of sentencing and corrections reforms supported by the ABA.

The First Step Act (FSA), the most significant federal criminal justice reform passed in a decade, was aimed at walking back the harsher “tough on crime” and “war on drugs” policies developed in the 1990s that failed to produce promised results. FSA sought to reduce the federal prison population by shortening certain unnecessarily long sentences, improving conditions of confinement, expanding the opportunity for infirm prisoners to transfer to community supervision, and providing new tools for those leaving prison to make successful transitions back into society.

However, latent gaps in the FSA’s coverage emerged during oversight of its implementation. Durbin and Grassley’s recent bills – S. 1251, the First Step Implementation Act; S. 1248, the Safer Detention Act; and S. 1247, the Terry Technical Correction Act -- would fill these gaps while also adding new reforms in keeping with the spirit of the FSA. The ABA has adopted policies relevant to each of these three bills, as summarized below.

  • Their First Step Implementation Act would apply many of the sentencing reforms under the FSA retroactively – a move the ABA supported in a 2019 resolution shortly after the FSA’s passage. The Act would also give judges more discretion to depart from a mandatory minimum if certain conditions were met. The ABA opposes the use of mandatory minimums for any offense. The bill further introduces “second look” sentencing for the first time, which would allow minors sentenced as adults to have their federal sentence reconsidered after they served at least 20 years – a critical change given that there is no parole in the federal system. In addition, the bill expedites the sealing and expungement of certain juvenile delinquency records. These changes are consistent with broader ABA policy on the protection and expungement of juvenile records.
  • The Safer Detention Act would make improvements to the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program, including a technical correction to the calculation of an offender’s remaining sentence based on good time credits – a correction  requested by the ABA in 2019.
  • The Terry Technical Correction Act seeks to make sentencing changes under the First Step Act apply retroactively, which is also supported by the ABA.

To track developments on each of these bills as they progress, follow us on Twitter @ABAGrassroots.

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