Funding for the First Step Act: We Need Programs for Criminal Justice Reform
José Arnulfo Cabrera
April 26, 2019
The First Step Act was a bipartisan bill that took the first step forward to getting criminal justice reform, and in December 2018 it became law! All of these returning citizens would not have been incarcerated if the Fair Sentencing Act had been passed before 2010. The act stopped punishment disparities between both possessing and selling crack cocaine and powdered. But the First Step Act does more than that. It reduces the amount of mandatory minimum by creating a new system called a safety valve, which reviews individual nonviolent drug offense cases with no prior criminal background. The bill will also authorize funding for programs that will help returning citizens break the chains of our injustice criminal justice system. In the next four years, Congress has the authority to appropriate $75 million dollars to rehabilitative for individuals who will be released because of the First Step Act.
Every February the President sends his budget request to Congress as they begin their regular appropriations process. The passing of First Step Act was possible because of many Republicans and Trump, who supported it. But when we saw that Trump only requested $14 million in this year’s budget request, we became worried that the Trump Administration wasn’t committed to implementing the full $74 million the First Step Act authorized. At NETWORK, we believe that the budget is a moral document that shows what our government’s priorities are. If the budget does not allocate the full $74 million authorized to carry out the First Step Act, then it is clear that criminal justice reform is not one of these priorities.
Officials in the Trump administration shared that they plan to increase their funding request in the next budget year to $147 million, so it can offset the money that fell short last year. The Department of Justice (DOJ) also stated that more funding will need to be appropriated in order to be able to begin implement the policies in the First Step Act. At a White House celebration of the passing the First Step Act, Trump stated that his administration has the full intention of fully funding the First Step Act. While the funding is very important, there are programs that must begin to in order for the policies to take place. On April 8, the DOJ announced the first programs that the First Step Act seeks to create. The DOJ‘s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) share they choose Hudson Institute to host the Independent Review Committee. This program will assist the DOJ in developing and implementing risk and needs assessment tools and evidence-based recidivism reduction that will help incarcerated individuals become return citizens. This is a good start and does give us hope the First Step Act policies will be implemented.
NETWORK has been on the Hill talking with the staffers of Congress members, along with our partners, to ensure that $75 million will be appropriated to fully fund the First Step Act policies. For all of the correct programs to be implemented, the bill will need to allot enough money for the government to fund them.