The First Step Act
A little-known fact is that the US has only 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s inmates. The extremely high incarceration rate creates daily challenges all over the country, and our lawmakers are very aware that something needs to be done about it. In alignment with that, Congress passed the First Step Act in December 2018 as part of a larger federal prison reform plan. The First Step Act provides:
- Drastically reduced minimum sentences for many non-violent drug offenses
- Early release facilitated through an increase in the possible yearly good conduct credits
- The compassionate early release provided for elderly or terminally ill inmates
- Relocation of select inmates to a prison located within 500 miles of their families
- Female inmates granted greater protection and availability of feminine hygiene products
- Inmates provided additional programs to reduce recidivism (return to prison after release due to repeated criminal activity)
- Expansion of the “safety valve”
While this law affects only federal inmates (as opposed to those in state or county prisons), it sets a precedent for states to enact similar legislation to ease their own overcrowded and difficult prison situations.
The key to understanding the ramifications of prison reform is understanding the terms used, so here we’ve provided definitions of some of the less-common jargon:
Home confinement: A lesser form of incarceration where an inmate is required to remain at home with limited freedom of movement, often with an ankle monitoring system.
Good conduct credits: Inmates who demonstrate ethical conduct and strict adherence to prison regulations are granted “good conduct credits” by the prison, each of which earns one day off their sentence. The maximum credits in federal prisons under the First Step Act are 54 in one year.
Compassionate release: For those who are elderly (over 60 years old) or terminally ill, an early release program exists to allow them to spend the remainder of their days with their families.
Halfway Houses (residential rehabilitation centers): Facilities that house low-risk inmates or those nearing the end of their sentences, allowing them limited freedom and extended participation in educational and job-seeking activities to help reintegrate them into society.
While many of the benefits provided by the First Step Act occur as a matter of course, such as reduced sentences, some benefits are discretionary – meaning you need to apply and get approved. Scenarios in which benefits may be requested include:
- Those convicted of non-violent crimes and who are considered relatively low risk may petition to serve their sentence (or the balance of their sentence) in home confinement. This scenario also applies to those who have been convicted and are awaiting settlement.
- Those who have demonstrated good behavior in prison may request transfer to a prison located within 500 driving miles of their families.
- Elderly or terminally ill inmates may request compassionate early release to home confinement for the remainder of their sentences.
- Inmates in prison for more than one year and less than a lifetime sentence and who demonstrate ethical conduct and strict adherence to prison guidelines are eligible to receive up to 54 “good conduct credits” per year, each of which can take a day off their sentence.
Petitioning for and receiving early release is best done with the help of a Los Angeles writs and appeals lawyer who has intimate and extensive knowledge of the First Step Act and other associated laws. At Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP, our attorneys have decades of experience helping inmates accomplish an early release and improvements of their conditions, so contact us today.
Recent Case Results
- Complete Dismissal of Molestation Charges
Attorney Mark Werksman’s 29 year old client was falsely accused of molesting two neighborhood children and was subsequently charged with felony child molestation, with a significant prison sentence hanging over his head should he be convicted. Instead, at the preliminary hearing Werksman was able to convince the court to grant his client a complete dismissal of any charges.
- Decision Set Aside
Client, a college student in a faulty Title IX case, was awarded $130,000 in attorney fees.
- Probation with No Jail Time for Drug Money Laundering Charge
Wilmington man accused in New York federal court of laundering drug money through the sale of laptop computers. Mark was able to get the case transferred to federal court in Los Angeles, where he convinced the United States Attorney to reduce the charges. His client was sentenced to probation with no jail time on a misdemeanor conviction.