The Effort to Reform the Federal Criminal Justice System
128 YALE L.J. FORUM 791 (2019)
27 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2019
Date Written: February 26, 2019
The federal criminal justice reform community scored an important victory with the passage of the First Step Act, a federal sentencing and prison reform bill that President Trump signed into law in late 2018. First Step’s passage broke many years of congressional gridlock around criminal justice reform bills, marking Congress’s departure from forty years of policies advancing the carceral state. First Step’s passage didn’t happen by accident. The federal reform community is now better funded, more prolific, and more politically diverse than ever before, and it successfully provided the political cover necessary for congressional members to vote for reform. This Essay describes the difficult movement for federal criminal justice reform and how the reform community’s efforts led to passage of the First Step Act. It also explains what risks could stall future federal reforms, while providing a normative analysis of the criteria the federal justice reform community should use in deciding whether to support particular reforms.
Keywords: First Step Act, federal criminal justice system, criminal justice reform, sentencing reform, mass incarceration, politics
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