What is the state of criminal justice reform?

The passage of the First Step Act in December of 2018 signaled a major shift in how criminal justice reform might proceed. Citizens’ eyes should now look to states to help further advances in this area.

People who live in Tennessee are no doubt highly aware of the problems that the nation as a whole is facing due to substance abuse. With many people having developed serious addiction problems after being prescribed opioid medications, many have ended up becoming involved in criminal activities to fuel their addictions. Others have died due to overdoses.

The problems associated with drug crimes also extend to prisons. Prison populations are high and conditions are often not good. Many people leave prison without a clear path on how they might rebuild their lives, contributing to a vicious downward cycle for them.

In the last part of December 2018, the U.S. President signed a bill that represented a significant step forward in reforming the country's criminal justice system. It is useful for people in Tennessee to review that bill and the state's own effort in this area.

The First Step Act focuses on rehabilitation

As explained by CNN, the primary premise on which the First Step Act was built is that incarcerated people should be helped to positively re-integrate into society upon being released from prison. This re-integration does not begin on the day that a person is released but actually begins from the moment they are charged with a crime.

One positive area of the bill is that it introduced no additional mandatory minimum sentences. Another provision of the bill outlined plans to house people in prisons nearer to their family members so that they could more easily maintain positive relationships and ties while in custody.

Inmates will also have access to programs while in prison that allow them to earn credits for time served.

Sentence reductions already evident

The First Step Act was noteworthy also for its reduction in sentences for many offenders. The National Review explains that more than 1,000 people saw their sentences reduced by an average of 30%. The period of reduction ranged from 14 to 20 years. Many of the people who received reduced sentences were imprisoned for drug-related offenses.

Tennessee's focus on criminal justice reform

U.S. News and World Report highlighted a conversation with the Tennessee Governor in which he stated a goal to focus on statewide reform. So far, the Governor has eliminated the fee associated with requesting an expungement of a criminal conviction. Sentencing guidelines may also be reviewed in the future.

Anyone who has been arrested in Tennessee should speak with an attorney to learn how they may best defend themselves, especially in the face of changing laws.