Prison releases begin under First Step Act

New Jersey residents may be interested to learn that over 3,100 people will soon be released from federal prisons as part of the implementation of a sentencing reform bill. The Bureau of Prisons will be releasing these individuals in compliance with the First Step Act, which was passed by Congress and signed by President Trump in 2018. The majority of the offenders being released were convicted on drug charges and many have already been living in halfway houses after they were identified for eligibility under the law. However, 900 of the people being released are still eligible for detention by immigration authorities or local officials.

The law reduces sentences for certain types of drug crimes, including disproportionate prison terms for crack cocaine as oppose to powder cocaine. The Justice Department also said that 250 elderly or terminally ill prisoners were identified and moved to home imprisonment or a compassionate release program. Furthermore, Justice Department officials are working to identify other prisoners who could benefit from programs allowing them to earn credits for early release under the First Step Act.

Members of Congress emphasized that the review system being used must be thoroughly reviewed because there remains the potential to disproportionately assess prisoners in a discriminatory fashion. Assessments used by judges have been shown to lead to longer sentences for black prisoners despite similar criminal histories and charges. Some raised concerns about the think tank consulted by the administration, the Hudson Institute, as it has repeatedly expressed opposition to criminal justice reform in general and the First Step Act in particular.

A criminal conviction can lead to serious repercussions that will affect a defendant for the rest of their life. Someone facing criminal charges may want to consult a criminal defense lawyer about their options for challenging police allegations and presenting a strong defense.

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