As a result of historic criminal justice legislation passed December 2018 by Congress, many federal prisoners can now petition courts for early release. The FSA- or The First Step Act- is – literally - the first step in reforming the federal prison system. The provisions focus on rehabilitation, reintegration and sentencing reductions. Some significant reforms include: the reduction of mandatory minimum sentences, changes in “Good Time Credit” and “Earned Time Credit,” a better quality of life for incarcerated women, and reform on the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced statutory penalties for crack cocaine offenses.
The FSA is the first step in easing mandatory minimum sentencing and the three-strike rule. Before this Act, judges were often forced by legislation to sentence defendants to high mandatory minimums, regardless of any unique circumstances of a case. The FSA now gives a judge discretion to reject mandatory minimums for those convicted of drug offenses in certain circumstances. Similarly, the FSA eases the three-strike rule. The three-strike rule affected defendants with three or more convictions, including drug offenses. Under the three-strike rule, these defendants would have been exposed to a life-term in prison. Under the FSA, the minimum sentencing will change from life to 25 years. Furthermore, the FSA places restrictions on current practices of stacking charges related to federal gun offenses – which now, under the current stacking law, adds significant time to a defendant's sentence.
Good Time Credit and Earned Time Credit are procedures that shorten jail time and aid rehabilitation. Good Time Credit allows inmates who avoid disciplinary problems to receive days off their sentence per year. The First Step Act increased the cap number of days available to be earned from 47 to 54. Earned Time Credit allows inmates to gain credit for participating in vocational and rehabilitation programs. These credits will allow them to be released early to a halfway house. Certain inmates who are deemed higher risk are excluded from cashing in their credits unless their risk level is reduced. The addition of Earned Time Credit will affect approximately 4,000 inmates who may be eligible to petition for early release to a half-way house now.
The FSA also reforms the quality of life for both women and pregnant women in prison. Incarcerated women are now entitled feminine hygiene products at no cost to them. Pregnant and laboring mothers will no longer be shackled unless they poses immediate risk to herself, child or others.
Another immediate impact affects roughly 2,600 inmates who were convicted of crimes related to crack cocaine before 2010. In 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act attempted to reduce the disparity between punishments for crack cocaine and the powdered form. Under The First Step Act, defendants who were serving harsh sentences for old crack cocaine charges will receive a reduction in their sentence.
Both reforms to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 and Earned Time Credit are applied retroactively. This means that if a person has already been sentenced the new laws will apply to the case. Those eligible will have to most likely petition their sentencing judge for release,
If you or a loved one are affected by the FSA, call us at 212-566-1000. For more information contact our New York City Criminal Defense Lawyers at Sullivan & Brill, LLP.