Summary of First Step Act

On December 22, 2018, President Trump signed the First Step Act, a prison and sentencing reform bill. Below is a brief summary of some of the provisions. It should be noted that most of the provisions are not retroactive.

  • Modifies Certain Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Under 21 U.S.C. §841, when a defendant is convicted of a new drug offense, the mandatory minimum after two prior convictions for a serious drug felony or a serious violent felony will be 25 years instead of life. In addition, serious drug felonies and serious violent felonies will count only if they occurred within the past 15 years. Where a defendant is convicted of a new drug offense, the mandatory minimum after one prior conviction for a serious drug felony or a serious violent felony will be 15 years instead of 20 years. The same 15-year time period for prior serious drug or serious violent felonies will apply.

  • Broadens of Existing Safety Valve Provisions

Gives judges broader discretion to sentence some non-violent cooperating drug offenders below the mandatory minimum sentence. It would apply to cooperating offenders with up to four criminal history points (excluding any points that result from a 1-point offense). It would not apply to offenders with a prior 3-point offense or a 2- point violent offense.

  • Adjusts Good Time Credit Calculation

Prisoners receive 54 days of good time credit per year, not 47 days, for following prison rules. This change to good time credit would be retroactive.

  • Requires BOP to Put Lower-Risk, Lower-Needs People in Home Confinement

Applies to the full amount of time permitted under current law (10 percent of the person’s sentence or 6 months, whichever is less).

  • Requires the BOP to Place Prisoners Within 500 Miles of Home

Refers to driving miles, no air miles, if security classification and bed space allow it.

  • Reforms the BOP’s Compassionate Release Process

For prisoners facing “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances, including:

  • Allowing prisoners to appeal denials of compassionate release to federal courts after all other BOP remedies have been exhausted or at least 30 days have passed since the request was submitted
  • Requiring annual data reporting on BOP’s use of compassionate release
  • Creating an expedited timeline for BOP consideration of compassionate release requests of terminally ill prisoners
  • Permitting family members, lawyers, and BOP staff to help prisoners file compassionate release requests
  • Requiring better notice to BOP staff and prisoners of when compassionate release is available and how to ask for it
  • Authorizes $50 million in Funding

Funding provided per year for 5 years for rehabilitative programs in federal prisoners.

  • Gives Incentives to Prisoners

For those who cannot earn time credits for completing rehabilitative programs, incentives include:

  • Up to 510 phone minutes per month (which prisoners must pay for)
  • Additional time for visits, determined by the warden
  • Additional time using the BOP’s email system (which prisoners must pay for)
  • Transfer to a prison closer to the person’s home, if the warden approves
  • Increased commissary spending limits and product offerings
  • Consideration for transfer to preferred housing units
  • Requires BOP to Help People Get Government Identification

Assist with obtaining cards and birth certificates before they leave prison.

  • Reauthorizes an Elderly Prisoner Early Release Pilot Program

From the Second Chance Act of 2007, allowing elderly and elderly terminally ill prisoners to be released from prison early if they are at least 60 years old, have served 2/3 of their sentences, and meet all of the other requirements.

  • Bans Shackling of Pregnant Women in Federal Prisons and Jails
  • Expands Federal Prison Industries
  • Requires BOP to Expand Programs More Quickly

Putting them in place for all eligible prisoners within three years of the bill’s passage. Previous versions of the bill had a longer phase-in of up to 6 years. During this phase-in period, prisoners closest to release get priority for being placed in programs. After the phase-in period, medium- and higher-risk prisoners are given priority to be placed in programs, while jobs are prioritized for minimum- and low-risk prisoners.

  • Incentives for Participating in Recidivist Reducing Programs

Focuses time credit incentives on lower-risk prisoners who are unlikely to reoffend:

  • Minimum- and low-risk prisoners earn 15 days of credits for each 30 days of programming or jobs completed and can “cash in” these credits if they have maintained their risk level for two assessment periods (i.e., 2 years) and the warden does not object in writing to the redemption of their credits
  • Medium- and high-risk prisoners earn 10 days of credits for each 30 days of programming or jobs completed, and cannot “cash in” these credits unless they first reduce their risk levels to minimum or low. Medium- and high-risk prisoners may also petition to redeem their credits, and those petitions can be granted if the warden approves and finds that the prisoner is not likely to reoffend and is not danger to public safety
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Earned time credits are not real time off the person’s sentence. Credits may be cashed in only for more time in a halfway house or on home confinement. Once a person is in a halfway house or on home confinement, they can be sent back to prison if they violate the conditions of their confinement. The BOP’s model recidivism-reducing program is the residential drug abuse program (RDAP), which awards completing prisoners a one-year sentence reduction.

Excludes many prisoners from earning time credits, including:

  • Manufacturing or distributing drugs, with death or serious bodily injury resulting from the use of those drugs (21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A), (B), or (C))
  • Armed Career Criminal Act (18 U.S.C. § 924(e))
  • Assault with intent to commit murder (18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(1))
  • Influencing, impeding, retaliating against a federal officer by injuring a family member, except for a threat (18 U.S.C. § 115)
  • Biological weapons (18 U.S.C., chapter 10)
  • Chemical weapons (18 U.S.C., chapter 11B)
  • Assassination, kidnaping, or assault of a congressional, cabinet, or Supreme Court member (18 U.S.C. § 351)
  • Gathering, transmitting, losing defense information (18 U.S.C. § 793)
  • Gathering or delivering defense information to aid a foreign government (18 U.S.C. § 794)
  • Explosives or dangerous articles (chapter 39, U.S. Code, except for § 836 offenses involving transportation of fireworks into a state that prohibits their sale or use)
  • Distribution of information relating to weapons of mass destruction (18 U.S.C. § 842(p))
  • Use of fire or explosive (18 U.S.C. § 844(f)(3), (h), or (i))
  • Computer fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(1))
  • Murder under 18 U.S.C., chapter 51, except for manslaughter (18 U.S.C. § 1112), attempt to commit manslaughter (18 U.S.C. § 1113), misconduct or neglect of ship officers (18 U.S.C. § 1115), protection against HIV (18 U.S.C. § 1122)
  • Kidnaping (18 U.S.C., chapter 55)
  • Human trafficking and slavery (18 U.S.C., chapter 77), except for sections 1592 through 1596
  • Assault, kidnaping, or assassination of president or presidential staff (18 U.S.C. § 1751)
  • Intentionally killing or attempting to kill an unborn child (18 U.S.C. § 1841(a)(2)(C))
  • Terrorist attacks against railways or mass transportation systems (18 U.S.C. § 1992)
  • Bank robbery resulting in death (18 U.S.C. § 2113(e))
  • Robberies or burglaries involving drugs, which result in death (18 U.S.C. § 2118(c)(2))
  • Carjacking that results in death (18 U.S.C. § 2119(3))
  • Sabotage (18 U.S.C., chapter 105, except for § 2152)
  • Sexual abuse (18 U.S.C., chapter 109A, except for those convicted under any provision of § 2244 other than subsection (c))
  • Sexual exploitation of children (18 U.S.C. § 2251)
  • Selling or buying children (18 U.S.C. § 2251A)
  • Receipt or distribution of child pornography (18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(1), (2), or (3))
  • Second or subsequent conviction for possession, distribution, or sale of child pornography (18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(1) through (6))
  • Producing child pornography for importation (18 U.S.C. § 2260)
  • Transportation of explosive, biological, radioactive, chemical, or nuclear materials (18 U.S.C. § 2283)
  • Transportation of terrorists (18 U.S.C. § 2284)
  • Destroying a vessel or port, if it involved substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury (18 U.S.C. § 2291)
  • Terrorism (18 U.S.C. chapter 113B)
  • Torture (18 U.S.C. § 2340A)
  • Treason (18 U.S.C. § 2381)
  • Recruiting or using child soldiers (18 U.S.C. § 2442)
  • Developing or producing nuclear material (42 U.S.C. § 2077(b))\
  • Atomic weapons offenses (42 U.S.C. § 2122)
  • Atomic energy license violations (42 U.S.C. § 2131)
  • Communication or receipt of restricted atomic data (42 U.S.C. § 2274, 2275)
  • Sabotage of nuclear facilities or fuel (42 U.S.C. § 2284)
  • Damaging or destroying a pipeline facility, if the conduct involved a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury (49 U.S.C. § 60123(b))
  • Illegal reentry of certain removed aliens listed in 8 U.S.C. § 1326(b)(1) or (2) (e.g., the person has a prior conviction for a felony, an aggravated felony, or 3 or more misdemeanor drug or person crimes)
  • Export violations (50 U.S.C. App. 2401 et seq.)
  • International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. § 1705)
  • Disclosing identities of undercover agents, informants, sources (50 U.S.C. § 3121)
  • A conviction for:
    • An offense listed in 18 U.S.C. § 3559(c)(2)(F) (murder, manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter, assault with intent to commit murder, assault with intent to commit rape, aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, abusive sexual contact, kidnaping, aircraft piracy, robbery, carjacking, extortion, arson, firearm use, firearm possession during a drug offense or crime of violence, and attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of these offenses) AND
    • The person was sentenced to a year or more in prison for this conviction, AND:
    • The person has a prior state or federal conviction for murder, voluntary manslaughter, assault with intent to commit murder, aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, abusive sexual contact, kidnaping, carjacking, arson, or terrorism, for which the person served a year or more in prison.
  • District of Columbia offenders housed in federal prisons
  • State offenders housed in federal prisons
  • People serving life sentences
  • Noncitizens facing deportation or removal from the U.S.  

Even though these offenders would not be eligible to earn time credits or be released onto prerelease custody, they would be eligible to receive other incentives for completing programming, such as increased visiting time with families, more minutes for phone calls, more commissary privileges, or transfer to a different prison.  

The full text of the act can be found at: https://www.congress.gov/115/bills/s756/BILLS--115s756enr.pdf

Categories: Federal Law