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The First Step Act’s Prison Reforms

The law has failed to reach many of its intended beneficiaries in federal prisons. Congress and the Department of Justice must act to fulfill its promise.

Published: September 23, 2022
The entrance to the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana
Michael Conroy/AP

Three years ago, Congress passed the First Step Act, the first major federal criminal justice reform legislation in nearly a decade. footnote1_x872kfq 1 First Step Act of 2018, Pub. L. 115–391, 132 Stat. 5194 (2018), https://www.congress.gov/115/plaws/publ391/PLAW-115publ391.pdf [https://perma.cc/9TWB-U5HD]. The culmination of years of bipartisan advocacy, the law included both long-overdue changes to excessively punitive federal sentencing laws and reforms aimed at improving conditions in the federal prison system.

This brief examines the structure of the First Step Act’s prison reforms, how they have been implemented, and what more Congress and the Department of Justice (DOJ) must do to realize their potential.

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