What You Need to Know About the First Step Act

In 2018, the federal government implemented the First Step Act (FSA). This potentially groundbreaking legislation allows people sentenced to federal prison to petition to reduce their sentence length. However, it will take significant effort to ensure that the FSA is applied to your case, since many facilities have incentives to retain prisoners rather than granting early release.

If you or a loved one has been convicted of a federal crime and sentenced to prison, understanding the FSA can help you minimize the time spent in prison. It can also make it easier to return to everyday life afterward. Below are critical details about the First Step Act, what to keep in mind about the act, and tips that may help you in the future. 

What Is the First Step Act?

The FSA is a relatively broad bill that makes multiple changes to the United States Code. The goals of the FSA are to improve the prison system, reduce recidivism, and make it easier for imprisoned people to return to society after the end of their sentences. To do this, the bill mandated changes like:

  • A risk and needs assessment system for all Federal Bureau of Prisons inmates that includes evidence-based recidivism reduction tools. 
  • The reform of sentencing guidelines, including reducing mandatory minimum sentences for serious drug and violent felonies.
  • The retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, allowing imprisoned people to directly petition a court for a review of their sentence instead of having to go through the prison first.
  • Reauthorization of the Second Chance Act of 2007, encouraging grants for state and local projects to help imprisoned people reenter society
  • Various family and compassionate reforms, such as requiring imprisoned people to be placed as close to their home as possible, encouraging home confinement for low-risk people, reducing the requirements for compassionate release, making feminine hygiene products more widely available, and prohibiting solitary confinement for federally-incarcerated minors. 

Overall, the First Step Act could make it easier for people serving a federal prison sentence to end their sentence early and successfully return to society after their sentence ends. 

How the First Step Act Impacts Criminal Sentences

The broadest application of the FSA is the recidivism reduction program. Eligible people can participate in approved Evidence-Based Recidivism Reduction Programs and Productive Activities (EBRR) to earn time credits toward their sentence. 

For example, you may be able to participate in 30 days of an Occupational Education Program to receive ten days of time credit toward the end of your sentence. Other programs that may award EBRR time credits include:

  • Bureau literacy courses
  • National Parenting from Prison programs
  • Residential Drug Abuse Treatment programs
  • Mental Health Step Down programs
  • Anger management courses
  • BRAVE (Bureau Rehabilitation And Values Enhancement), an anti-recidivism program for young, first-time offenders

You are eligible to pursue these time credits as long as you have not committed a disqualifying offense. You can also file a motion in court to receive an early release if you’re covered by the Fair Sentencing Act. You may be eligible for this if you’ve been convicted of certain drug crimes. A prison consultant can help you determine eligibility and what to do next.

How to Pursue Help Under the First Step Act

The FSA was intended to be “easy to use.” However, the Act is not yet working the way it was intended. Many people in prison find that their facility is hesitant to apply the FSA to their case for financial reasons. Outside of widespread compassionate releases for the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be necessary to fight to receive time credit under the FSA. Here’s how to kickstart the process:

  • Check your conviction against the Federal Bureau of Prison’s information about eligibility. You are eligible for EBRR time credits unless your conviction is disqualified. 
  • Learn what EBRR programs your prison offers and sign up for one that fits your situation. Not all programs are offered at every location. Individual prisons should have lists of available programs either online or at the facility that inmates and their friends and family can access.

Once you’ve participated in an EBRR program, your credits should be automatically applied to your sentence. 

Take the First Step Toward a Brighter Future

The FSA is could be a tool to end sentences earlier. At Liberty Advisors, we can help you prepare for these classes and learn what to expect from your time enrolled. Get in touch today to learn more about how the First Step Act may help you or your loved one trim time from the end of their sentence and return home as soon as possible.


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