WASHINGTON— Reps. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) introduced the FIRST STEP Act, a prison reform initiative aimed at lowering recidivism and prison populations through rehabilitative programing.
“What we have in the FIRST STEP Act is a rare legislative opportunity to fulfill the demands of justice today while reducing future burdens on the criminal justice system. By implementing initiatives focused on rehabilitating individual men and women, we can promote human dignity in and beyond our prison system. This bill would reunite families, create skilled workers, make our streets safer and promote the wellbeing of people who will eventually rejoin society. I’m grateful to work with colleagues, like my friend Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Chairman Goodlatte and Senators Cornyn and Whitehouse, who understand that personal redemption represents one of the most robust forms of justice because it helps restore people and their communities,” said Collins.
“The mass incarceration epidemic is 50 years in the making. Fixing our broken criminal justice system will take an all-hands-on-deck effort from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. The FIRST STEP Act is a significant step in the right direction. My colleagues, particularly Congressman Collins and Sens. Whitehouse and Cornyn, should be commended for their stalwart leadership on this issue,” said Jeffries.
“The FIRST STEP Act is modeled after successful reforms that states like Texas have implemented to rehabilitate low-risk offenders and prepare them to reenter society,” said Cornyn. “This legislation will help shut the revolving door of recidivism to save taxpayer dollars and reduce crime. I look forward to working with my colleagues to move these necessary reforms forward on the federal level.”
“As states like Rhode Island show, everyone benefits when Americans who repay their debt to society emerge from prison ready to work and to contribute to their communities,” said Whitehouse. “This bill includes important provisions to treat prisoners battling addiction, like Rhode Island’s prison system has done. It will also help overhaul procedures that make it harder for former inmates to regain their footing. This is an important step forward in our effort to adopt smarter policies at every step in the criminal justice system.”
“The vast majority of federal prisoners will someday be released from prison, and it is important to give them tools to become more productive citizens so that they don’t return to a life of crime. The FIRST STEP Act provides inmates the help they need to successfully reenter society, which will in turn enhance the safety of our communities. I thank Representatives Collins and Jeffries for their work on and dedication to this important issue. I look forward to the House Judiciary Committee taking up this bill this week,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).
Prison reform initiatives have demonstrated success in state systems, including Georgia’s, and the FIRST STEP Act would enable the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to capitalize on similar resources at the federal level. The legislation would direct the BOP to conduct risk- and needs-assessments for every offender upon sentencing, and then to offer individualized, evidence-based recidivism reduction plans to all inmates, without exception. Programs could include vocational training, educational support, substance abuse treatment, mental health care, anger-management courses, faith-based initiatives or other resources proven to lower the chance that men and women reoffend.
The FIRST STEP Act would also prepare individuals to reenter their communities as responsible citizens by allowing them to serve the final days of their sentences in halfway houses or home confinement, which equips them with support structures as they transition out of custody. As inmates progress through rehabilitation plans tailored to their needs and approach the end of their sentences, the BOP would conduct risk- and needs-assessments more frequently in order to document when individuals have successfully reduced their risk of reoffending and to ensure that the most appropriate resources remain available to them during the reentry process.
Additional provisions of the bill would require that prisoners be placed in facilities located nearer their families, that female inmates have access to certain health care products, and that individuals leaving custody would receive identification documents that are often pre-requisites for employment.