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First Step Act could help thousands of inmates

The First Step Act is a criminal justice bill that could help reform prisons in Texas and across the United States. The bill is the first step in what many believe to be the beginning of prison reform and has been hailed by both the president and the American Civil Liberties Union. There are several components of the bill that could help thousands of individuals who are currently in prison.

The bill ends the disparity in prison sentences for those who were charged with using crack cocaine versus a powdered form of cocaine. Because many African Americans were charged with crack cocaine possession in the 1980s, this could help end some of the racial disparity seen in prison. The bill also gives judges the ability to exempt individuals from mandatory sentences during sentencing for those who have limited criminal histories.

The bill helps inmates transition back to life after their sentence is complete by encouraging rehabilitative and vocational programs. Participating in these programs will help inmates receive "earned time credits," which could reduce their sentence time in prison with an early release to a halfway home or home confinement. Finally, the bill reinforces policies that are already in place, such as placing inmates in facilities that are less than 500 miles from their homes, allowing prisoners to earn a reduced sentence up to 54 days for good behavior and not shackling women during childbirth.

If the bill passes Congress, it has the potential to benefit thousands of individuals who are currently in prison as well as those who are currently awaiting a trial or sentencing. A criminal defense lawyer may be able to help an individual receive a reduced sentence for good behavior or for earning vocational credits while in prison. In the case of someone who entered into a vocational program, a lawyer might present the court with a record of the client's good behavior and credits earned in the program in order to help their client be released early to their home or a halfway house.

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