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5 things to know about the evangelical-based prison reform bill FIRST STEP Act

5 things to know about the evangelical-based prison reform bill FIRST STEP Act

1.  Creates a new credit for participation in recidivism-reduction programs or other activities facilitating reentry into society

One of the main elements of the bill is to create a new “time credit” system on top of the system in place that awards federal prisoners reduced prison time for good behavior.

The bill would allow inmates to earn time credits by participating in rehabilitative, education and job-training programs that proponents say will better prepare them to have a better chance of staying out of prison once they are released.

Eligible programs are ones that have shown “empirical evidence to reduce recidivism or is based on research indicating that it is likely to be effective in reducing recidivism.”

Inmates would be able to use those credits to get themselves released from prison early to halfway houses or home confinement.

Such programs include family relationships building, classes on moral ethics, cognitive behavioral treatment, substance abuse treatment, vocational training, prison jobs, victim impact classes, and trauma counseling.

“A prisoner shall earn 10 days of time credits for every 30 days of successful participation in evidence-based recidivism reduction programming or productive activities,” the bill states.

Proponents believe that the bill will reduce recidivism in federal prisons and provide a solution for overcrowding because it will help the inmates face the problems they have that likely contributed to them being in prison.

Cotton, a leading critic of the bill, claims that the term “productive activities” is "loosely defined” in the legislation.

“[A]ccording to the Bureau of Prisons, playing softball, watching movies, or doing activities that the prisoners are already doing today will result in new time credits,” he claimed in a recent op-ed.

Lee, a supporter of the bill and one of the leading conservatives on the justice reform issue in the Senate, claimed in his own op-ed that Cotton’s argument “ignores the reality of the federal criminal justice system and the plain text of the bill.”

“The recidivism-reduction programs Cotton is so concerned about are designed by federal prison wardens, not prisoners,” Lee said. “Federal prison wardens simply do not award time credits for watching TV. Furthermore, the bill mandates data analysis on the effectiveness of each recidivism-reduction program. If the program is not proven effective, wardens will not award time for participating in it.”

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith, or Facebook: SamuelSmithCP.


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