Five years ago, former President Donald Trump signed the First Step Act (FSA) into law, and finally, we are seeing the positive impact it has had on our criminal justice system. The Senate Judiciary Committee recently held a hearing to evaluate the effectiveness of the FSA, and the testimonies given during the hearing provided clear evidence that criminal justice reform is possible.
— Brett Murphy (@bmurphypointman) January 18, 2024
Steve Markle, a seasoned professional with over two decades of experience in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, spoke passionately about the positive impact of the FSA. He highlighted how inmates are now showing more interest in rehabilitation programs, which is a step in the right direction. However, Markle also highlighted a concerning issue—the staffing shortage within the Bureau. It seems the success of the FSA has led to an increased demand for services, without an increase in resources to meet that demand. It’s frustrating to see the consequences of a great program being undermined by bureaucratic red tape.
One of the most powerful testimonies came from Matthew Charles, a beneficiary of the FSA. He shared his personal journey and the circumstances that led to his incarceration. Growing up in a dangerous neighborhood filled with fear, Charles made bad choices influenced by his abusive father. After serving in the military, he turned to selling drugs and received a harsh 35-year sentence. However, Charles found redemption through faith and the rehabilitative programs offered under the FSA. His transformation is a testament to the power of second chances and demonstrates the potential for positive change in our criminal justice system.
JaRon Smith, a former member of the Trump administration, also spoke in support of the FSA. He emphasized how the legislation prioritizes public safety by requiring thorough assessments of inmates before granting them early release. Smith made it clear that the policies put forth by the FSA are smart on crime and have yielded positive results. It’s refreshing to hear from someone who understands the importance of balance in reforming our criminal justice system.
Charles Smith, representing the National District Attorneys Association, added a legal perspective to the hearing. He highlighted how the FSA has proven effective for low-risk or non-violent offenders. It’s important to recognize that not all inmates pose equal threats to society, and the FSA ensures that individuals who can be safely reintegrated into society are given the opportunity to do so through rehabilitative services and reentry programs. This approach not only benefits the individuals themselves but also contributes to lower recidivism rates—an outcome that benefits society as a whole.
While critics have referred to the FSA as “jailbreak” legislation, the data proves otherwise. A report from the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) showed significant decreases in recidivism rates among federal prisoners released under the FSA. The recidivism rate for FSA beneficiaries is only 12.4%, a substantial improvement compared to the overall recidivism rate of 46.2% for individuals released from BOP facilities in 2018. This evidence should put to rest any doubts about the effectiveness of the FSA.
Overall, the FSA has proven to be a successful step forward in criminal justice reform. It has provided opportunities for rehabilitation and reintegration into society, reducing recidivism rates and enhancing public safety. It’s disheartening to see some individuals, like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence, fail to recognize the positive impact of this legislation. The FSA is evidence that when we focus on smart and effective policies, we can create a criminal justice system that works for everyone involved—victims, offenders, and society as a whole. It’s time for other lawmakers to take note and support further reforms that build upon the success of the FSA.