Many Colorado residents concerned about criminal justice reform have heard about the First Step Act, the bill introduced to Congress with support from widely disparate groups. Backers of the bill include President Trump as well as longtime justice reform advocates like the American Civil Liberties Union. Often described as a compromise bill, the proposal has been criticized as well. Some say that it is too soft on crime while others note that many of the reforms are seemingly cosmetic and may not make a significant difference in the system's operation. It is important for people to understand the bill's provisions, especially if they could potentially be impacted by the changes.
One of the immediate effects of the bill could be felt by the almost 2,600 people currently in federal prison for crack cocaine offenses and convicted before 2010. In that year, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act to address the disparities in sentencing for people accused of crack and powder cocaine charges. The sentencing disparities drew widespread criticism due to their disproportionate impact on black defendants. The reforms, however, were not retroactive. Under the First Step Act, people sentenced prior to 2010 could petition a judge for release.
Mandatory minimum sentences are another issue addressed in the bill. The First Step Act would put an end to mandatory life sentences in federal prison for people convicted of three serious felonies or drug trafficking crimes. Instead, a mandatory sentence of 25 years would be imposed. Other mandatory minimums would also be reduced under the proposed law.
A criminal conviction can have a major impact on all aspects of life, including education, housing and employment. People facing charges may want to work with a criminal defense attorney to challenge prosecution narratives and work to avoid a conviction.