The First Step Act: A Good First Step Indeed!

The First Step Act: A Good First Step Indeed!

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

If it passes, the First Step Act will dramatically change life for thousands of inmates in America and will tackle, head-on, some of the problems that lead people to prison and keep them there.

Many long-overdue items in the Act include banning the shackling of pregnant and postpartum women (was a woman in labor ever in danger of making a run for it?), providing ID cards for released offenders, placing offenders in prisons within driving distance of their families, and using a good behavior credit system that sees early release to supervised non-prison environments. These and other reforms listed in the Act would drain the glut on the overburdened penal system and give released offenders a better chance at life on the outside.

However, the reform item on the Act that excites us here at the Zoukis Consulting Group is the Act’s plan to “Compel the BOP to match individual needs to programs, training, and services, so that men and women return home job-ready.”

That is perhaps the reform action item with the most impact because not only is it about education, and it’s about explicitly applying that education most effectively for the inmate.

Think about the implications of that.

For this reform item to come true, prisons across America must have training and education programs in place. Currently, more than 20 states do not have formal prison education programs. The Act would further encourage those programs to be varied. Right now, as prison education largely relies on the charitable acts of post-secondary institutions and volunteers, programs that are in place vary widely from prison to prison. For some, GED studies are available; for others, degree programs in liberal arts are in place. But while some inmates are getting caught up in philosophy and sociology, others are learning how to balance a budget and make healthy meals from low-cost grocery items. “Matching individual needs to programs, training, and services” would do a lot to push both formal and informal prison education across all states, giving inmates a chance to get what they need most, whether it’s a college education, life skills, or (more realistically) both.

The Marshall Project, a non-profit news organization devoted to covering the criminal justice system, says supporters hail The First Step Act as a pivotal moment in the movement to create a more fair justice system,” and we couldn’t agree more.

However, despite gaining positive traction, the First Step Act is not yet a reality. The Act has passed through the House of Representatives with overwhelming support (360-59). The next step is to see the Act pass through the Senate.

#FirstStepAct makes it easy for those supporting the proposed reform to influence where this Act goes next. Suggestions include Tweeting your senator, emailing a letter to your congressperson, or even calling your representative directly. #FirstStepAct has scripts and tools on its webpage to make Tweets, calls, letters, or emails fast and easy.

The First Step Act is a significant step forward and one of the most progressive, sweeping prison reform ideas we’ve seen recently. We will be closely watching this Act’s progression while hoping it goes forward to benefit prisoners in every state in America.