Under the First Step Act signed by President Trump, thousands of inmates - mostly people of color - have been released or received reduced sentences.
On December 21, 2018, President Trump signed into law the First Step Act (FSA) of 2018 (P.L. 115- 391). An overview of the First Step Act by the Federal Bureau of Prisons states, ‘The act was the culmination of a bipartisan effort to improve criminal justice outcomes and reduce the size of the federal prison population while also creating mechanisms to maintain public safety.’ The Brennan Center for Justice described the measure as a historic criminal justice reform bill.
The First Step Act dedicated several resources for reducing recidivism. The Washington Post reported that ‘the Act aimed to reduce the over-incarceration of black people and the racially disparate impact of federal criminal justice practices by reducing some mandatory minimum sentences.’ The Bureau of Prisons was also instructed to improve and expand inmate rehabilitation programs and prohibit the shackling of pregnant prisoners as part of the legislation. In June 2019, the Department of Justice issued a press release announcing that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has launched the ‘Ready to Work’ initiative seeking to connect employers directly to inmates to improve reentry outcomes. The release stated that the initiative is part of the BOP’s holistic approach to implementing the First Step Act.
According to a press release issued by the Department of Justice in July 2019, 3,100 federal prison inmates were released due to the increase in good conduct time under the Act. ‘The Act’s retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (reducing the disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine threshold amounts triggering mandatory minimum sentences) has resulted in 1,691 sentence reductions,’ it stated.
On January 15, 2020, another press release mentioned that the Act’s retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 resulted in 2,471 orders for sentence reductions. A report published by The New York Times states, ‘By and large, the First Step Act has met its goal of reducing federal sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, addressing a longstanding disparity in which crack cocaine convictions, in particular, led to far harsher penalties than other drug offenses and disproportionately increased imprisonment of Black men.’ A report titled ‘First Step Act of 2018 Resentencing Provisions Retroactivity Data Report’ published by the U.S. Sentencing Commission in June 2019, states that out of the 1046 offenders who received sentence reductions due to resentencing provisions of First Step Act, 955 were Blacks.
However, questions have been raised about the outcomes of the First Step Act. An investigation conducted by The Washington Post reported that the Justice Department was allegedly working to limit the number of inmates who could benefit from the First Step Act. It stated, ‘Federal prosecutors are arguing in hundreds of cases that inmates who have applied for this type of relief are ineligible, according to a review of court records and interviews with defense attorneys.’
This claim was corrected on August 25th, 2020. The title of the claim was changed to more accurately reflect the President's likely intended meaning, and the judgement was changed from 'partly true' to 'misleading' as a result.