Even in these politically polarized times, there is a remarkable degree of consensus that the present system of criminal justice in the United States isn't working properly. Although the deficiencies of the criminal justice system have a negative impact upon all members of society, they are particularly damaging for African Americans, who are disproportionately more likely to be sent to prison than other groups in society.
Recent figures show that African Americans represent 33 percent of the US prison population, despite only constituting 12 percent of the American population as a whole. The First Step Act, signed into law in 2018, was an attempt by Democrats and Republicans alike to address some of the glaring inequalities in the criminal justice system.
It sought to do this by implementing sentencing reform aimed at shortening prison sentences. One significant component of his reform policy involves giving defendants greater opportunities to avoid mandatory prison sentences by allowing judges to impose sentences lower than the statutory minimum.
The prison reform component of the First Step Act is designed to improve conditions in federal prisons. For instance, it eliminates the highly controversial—and to critics, barbaric—practice of forcibly restraining pregnant women. The First Step Act also makes greater provision for placing offenders in prisons nearer to their families.
The general approach of the First Step Act is rehabilitative rather than punitive. In other words, it sets greater store by rehabilitating offenders than punishing them. This is regarded as an essential prerequisite for giving African American offenders in particular an opportunity to escape the endless cycle of offending and reoffending that constitutes life for so many in America today.