President Trump is leading the charge towards meaningful criminal justice reform in the United States. In a White House event on Wednesday, the president announced his support for the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person (or FIRST STEP) Act—major legislation that would rewrite federal sentencing laws and improve our nation’s criminal justice system.
“Our whole Nation benefits if former inmates are able to reenter society as productive, law-abiding citizens,” said President Trump of the bill’s importance and its bipartisan support.
As nearly all incarcerated Americans will one day leave prison, the goal of the Trump administration and the FIRST STEP Act is to make sure they do not return.
This is ambitious, considering the country’s high recidivism rates: A 2016 US Sentencing Commission report estimated that 49.3 percent of federal offenders released in 2005 were arrested again within eight years. And as per a 2018 special report from the US Bureau of Justice Statistics examining released prisoners over a nine-year period, former prisoners remain involved in criminal activity both within and outside of the state where they were imprisoned.
According to the White House, the FIRST STEP Act will focus on lowering recidivism rates by promoting prisoner participation in “vocational training, educational coursework, or faith-based programs, and in turn help them successfully reenter society.” By giving prisoners the opportunity to gain job skills, President Trump is confident they will be better equipped to return to their communities as productive members of society.
“We’re all better off when former inmates can receive and reenter society as law-abiding, productive citizens. And thanks to our booming economy, they now have a chance at more opportunities than they’ve ever had before. It is true. Our economy is so strong, that when people are getting out of jail, they’re actually able to find jobs,” the president said.
The bill also seeks to reform mandatory minimum sentencing laws, reduce the enhanced penalties for certain nonviolent repeat drug offenders, and would eliminate the three-strike mandatory life provision. Inmates convicted of numerous serious offenses— including violent crimes, child exploitation, and terrorism, would be excluded from taking advantage of the legislation’s incentives.
Likewise, the incentives would not reduce anyone’s sentence.
“The bill includes reasonable sentencing reforms while keeping dangerous and violent criminals off our streets. In many respects, we’re getting very much tougher on the truly bad criminals — of which, unfortunately, there are many. But we’re treating people differently for different crimes. Some people got caught up in situations that were very bad,” President Trump said.
He added, “If you look at Texas, if you look at Georgia, if you look at Mississippi and Kentucky and some other states that are known as being very tough — these are big supporters of what we’re doing. And some of it has been modeled after what they’ve done. […] Americans from across the political spectrum can unite around prison reform legislation that will reduce crime while giving our fellow citizens a chance at redemption. So if something happens and they make a mistake, they get a second chance at life.”
Currently, seven major police organizations, and hundreds of conservative leaders and organizations support the bill. It also enjoys extensive support from the faith community, with over 2,700 faith and evangelical leaders publicly backing the legislation.
Encouraging both chambers of Congress to approve this historic, bipartisan bill, President Trump has shown he is dedicated to making our communities safe, our economy robust, and our criminal justice system fair.
“Today’s announcement shows that true bipartisanship is possible. […] When Republicans and Democrats talk, debate, and seek common ground, we can achieve breakthroughs that move our country forward and deliver for our citizens,” the president said, adding, “It’s the right thing to do.”