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A Huge First Step

W. Scott Cole

Posted on June 24, 2018 02:47

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The United States Congress has taken a major step towards meaningful prison reform. The FIRST STEP Act has passed the House of Representatives and is now headed toward the Senate. It has promise of providing benefits to both inmates and society.

The Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person (FIRST STEP) Act is currently making its way through Congress, and it has the potential to be the first real meaningful piece of legislation in years, if not decades, in the area of prison reform. If passed and signed into law, it would be a win-win for everybody.

The bill provides for specific anti-recidivism programs, including, in part, life skills, such as social learning and communication; family relationship building; academic classes; vocational training; and cognitive behavioral treatment. It also requires the Bureau of Prisons to place lower risk, lower needs inmates on home confinement for the maximum time possible.

This bill is not a pie in the sky liberal daydream. Several states have already enacted reforms this bill is based on and in a recent survey, 80 percent of conservatives on Capitol Hill support the reforms contained in the bill. That includes the Trump administration, meaning the bill has a good chance to become law. Many liberals oppose it, in spite of the benefits the bill will provide.

The states that have already passed such legislation provides a look at some of the benefits the FIRST STEP Act would provide to both inmates and society, if it becomes law. It provides the potential for inmates to effectively cut their prison time in half by redeeming time reductions of their sentence to allow them to be placed in halfway houses and on home confinement sooner. Minimum and lower risk inmates could redeem their credits toward the end of their sentences. Medium and higher risk inmates would have to petition to redeem their credits and could do so only with the approval of the warden and an assessment that they would not reoffend.

The State of Texas, which first used reforms such as those contained in the bill in 2007, is an example of how well legislation such as this works if implemented properly. Within 10 years, the per capita crime rate in Texas had dropped by one third. That is a huge win for society because it not only means felons are now being contributing members of society, communities are much safer. The two other notable wins for society are just as big. First, Texas saved more than three billion dollars directly because of its reforms.

Second, the prison population has shrunk so much that the state has closed eight prisons in the last six years. I don’t know about anyone else, but to me, over three billion dollars and eight fewer prisons translates into more and better schools, and it has been well established that education alone reduces the chances of children landing in prison when they become adults.

The Federal Government has seen the benefits of legislation such as the FIRST STEP Act and should be applauded for the actions they are taking. The states that have not already passed similar reforms need to follow suit very soon.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on June 24, 2018 02:47

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(RNS) — As the First Step Act passes the U.S. House of Representatives, the country’s largest Christian prison ministry says...

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