Propelled by years of public commentary and concern about the size of the federal prison population—which has receded from its peak of over 219,000 in 2013 to roughly 186,000 in 2017 but remains more than seven times larger than it was 40 years ago—Congress recently passed, and President Trump signed into law, a major piece of criminal justice reform legislation, commonly referred to as the First Step Act. The new law reduces enhanced minimum mandatory sentences for prior drug felons; expands the existing “safety valve” that allows below-statutory-minimum sentences for certain non-violent, low-level drug-crime defendants; and establishes a variety of initiatives and policies at the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) intended to ease re-entry for soon-to-be-released federal offenders. This much of the bill is fairly straightforward.

The central and most notable elements of the First Step Act, however, are contained in its Title I “Recidivism Reduction” provisions. Title I requires the Attorney General and his Justice Department colleagues (in consultation with an “Independent Review Committee” of outside experts and practitioners) to devise or select (by late July of this year) and then fully implement (by late January 2020) a comprehensive “risk and needs assessment system” that will use a combination of actuarial tools and individualized appraisals to classify (and regularly re-classify) everyone in BOP custody according to the likelihood that he will recidivate post-release. Certain offenders who achieve and maintain a “minimum” or “low” recidivism risk classification will then be eligible to earn time credits for successful participation in BOPrehabilitative programs. And these time credits may subsequently be redeemed through assignment to pre-release custody or supervised release during what would otherwise be the end of an offender’s regular prison sentence.

Read the full article about criminal justice reform and recidivism reduction by John P. Walters and David Tell at Hudson Institute.