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Relevant query: Will First Step Act reforms yield notable benefits?

Don’t bet against it.

That might reasonably be sage advice for anyone asked to make a judgment call concerning whether recently enacted criminal justice reforms will make a sizable dent in the country’s troubling recidivism rate.

Here’s the problem, with its vast dimensions being confirmed by reams of empirically culled evidence: Legions of federal inmates are locked away for years – often decades – in federal prisons, and a high percentage of them commit new offenses after finally completing their harsh sentences. In, out and back again. The cycle continues.

What the so-called First Step Act inked into law by President Trump late last year has enabled is a revisiting of eligibility requirements applicable to early release for select federal offenders. Many of those individuals were arguably sentenced inappropriately in the first place, being slapped with punitive outcomes fashioned during yesteryear’s War on Crime.

As a result, federal lockups across the country, including in Missouri, have long been stuffed with offenders lacking any history of violence or propensity to repeatedly commit crime. High numbers of them are first-time offenders.

The First Step initiative is now paying some initial dividends. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch piece notes that more than 3,000 federal inmates quickly qualified for early prison release “within hours after the [legislation] went into effect” earlier this month.

Coupled with that exodus is supplemental sentencing discretion now handed back to federal judges. That was long denied them during ears of a mandatory lock-them-up rationale that worked to stuff the country’s penitentiaries to a breaking point.

Will the recent reforms materially reduce recidivism?

The Post-Dispatch stresses that “it will take years of monitoring” to know.

This is a certainty, though: An initial thrust toward change was badly needed, as are additional reforms being proposed.

Both of America’s major political parties strongly agree on that.

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Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry

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