The federal First Step Act was passed in late 2018 in an effort to reverse course on some overly harsh sentences that had been passed down over the last several decades. It also allowed for the early release of terminally ill people and passed a variety of reforms to the federal prison system.
The American Bar Association's (ABA's) House of Delegates and the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (NACDL) have just passed a unanimous resolution urging Congress to fully fund the federal First Step Act and to make it retroactive.
As we discussed on this blog last December, the First Step Act was a bipartisan reform law that promised relief for federal defendants and prisoners in several areas. The Act was expected to be especially helpful to minority defendants, as minorities have traditionally been sentenced more harshly than whites for equivalent crimes. The first major overhaul of the federal criminal justice system in decades, the First Step Act was signed into law by President Trump on Dec. 21, 2018.
The question of how much discretion federal judges should have when sentencing criminal defendants is an important one, and opinions have changed over time. In the 1980s and 1990s, Congress passed a large number of strict, mandatory minimum sentencing requirements.
It appears that the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill backed by bipartisan groups and supported by the President, may yet come up for a vote this year. The bill proposes changes in federal criminal sentencing and promises some reforms in the prison system.