This month marks the five-year anniversary of the First Step Act (FSA), one of the most important and impactful federal-level criminal justice reforms in many years. Signed into law by former President Trump, this bipartisan legislation provided a mechanism for some low-risk people to leave prison early and made changes to certain harsh federal sentencing guidelines.
In a new op-ed published this week in The Hill, Arnold Ventures Vice President of Criminal Justice Advocacy Kevin Ring writes about how the FSA has successfully addressed some of the worst inequities and excesses of the federal justice system. “The First Step Act has fulfilled its promise to improve public safety while reducing unnecessary incarceration,” he writes.
However, the criminal justice reform movement has been largely unable to follow up on the success of the FSA. Part of the reason has been an inability to effectively respond to the rising crime of the Covid-era and the resulting partisan backlash against reform efforts.
“As violent crime spiked, we didn’t acknowledge reality,” Ring writes. “We seemed too often to minimize concerns about safety by pointing to even worse crime rates from 30 years ago.”
Rather than denying the obvious and staking out extreme positions, for instance on policing or prisons, reformers should return to the formula that enabled the FSA: exposing the most clearly broken parts of the criminal justice system and advancing evidence-based, bipartisan solutions.
“Justice reform is not the problem. Commonsense reform is the answer,” Ring concludes.
Read the op-ed here