After analysis, the USCCB has determined that the Senate’s revised version of the First Step Act (S. 3649), will improve the lives of millions of people impacted by the federal criminal justice system. The culmination of years of bipartisan efforts at reform, the Act combines measures that will improve prisons and sentencing.
In terms of the Act’s prison reform measure, it will help to ensure community safety by reducing recidivism while also supporting the fair and humane treatment of prisoners. Towards these ends, the Act requires that pregnant women not be restrained while in prison, establishes a maximum geographical distance between prisoners and families, enhances compassionate release for terminally ill and elderly prisoners, assists returning citizens with obtaining government ID documents that will be essential in finding employment and housing, and fixes the time credit system. The centerpiece of the FIRST STEP Act is a risk assessment system that is paired with rehabilitative programming so that individuals will have opportunities to prepare to be productive members of their communities upon release.
The newly revised Senate version also includes sentencing reform, including fixes to sentencing enhancement provisions, expansion of the federal safety valve to allow judges not to be forced to give higher sentences than a specific case merits, and retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act which reduced the crack/ powder cocaine disparity. These provisions help to take a first step in addressing the excesses of mass incarceration, which will lead to a more just criminal justice system as well as increased peace and safety in the community.
Recently, there has been some discussion in the Senate about watering down the sentencing reform aspect of the bill. We believe it would be best for the Senate to pass it in its current form before the end of the year.
Click here for a link to the letter supporting the Act from Bishop Frank J. Dewane, Catholic Charities USA, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Via USCCB Action Center – December 2018