This week, the First Step Act to reform the federal penitentiary system was passed and signed into law. The Orange County Young Democrats strongly support the First Step Act as a much needed measure towards reforming our federal criminal justice system.

The First Step Act is not a radical overhaul of the criminal justice system by any stretch of the imagination. It is a modest reform of the federal prison system that is focused on transitioning offenders back to civilian life more effectively. The bill gives prisoners who are determined to be a low risk to re-offend and additional time credits for participating in programs that help reduce recidivism. Violent criminals cannot get these time credits and high-risk prisoner cannot use them to be released early until they show they are no longer a high risk to re-offend.

The First Step Act treats serious criminals like serious criminals and treats high risk inmates as having a higher risk. But for non-violent offenders and people at a low risk of re-offending, the lion’s share of whom will be serving time for first time drug possession offenses, the First Step Act will focus on rehabilitation and helping people start their lives again when they are granted their freedom after serving their sentence.

The Act also makes prisons more humane. For example, it strengthens existing legislation designed to reduce prison rape and bars the shackling of pregnant women in prison. The Act also helps prisoners maintain connections to their social network outside of prison by requiring prisoners be housed in the prison that is closest to their home so it is easier for relatives and friends to visit them. These changes will reduce the alienation felt by prisoners and in the long run will reduce crime.

The First Step Act is a worthy piece of legislation. It makes prisons more humane and encourages rehabilitation without putting dangerous criminals back on the streets. The Orange County Young Democrats support this important law.