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The Federal First Step Act of 2018

Here’s more meat on the bones of the new sentencing law from last week.

Earning credit toward early release. You can earn 10-15 days of credit for every thirty that you participate in certain programs. These may include work programs, academic classes, vocational training, trauma counseling, substance-abuse treatment, faith-based services, and family-building and parenting. The credits you earn can shave up to twelve months off your sentence or allow you to serve them in a halfway house or on house arrest. There are other benefits, too. They include more time for phone calls, emails, and visits; transfers to other housing units or prisons, if possible; and more spending or better selection (or both) at the commissary. But you’re not eligible if you’re convicted of a laundry list of crimes that include serious, violent or sexual cases.

Avoiding enhanced mandatory minimums based on prior convictions. For your prior felony to be a serious one that triggers such extreme punishment, it must’ve actually been a felony in the sense that you actually served more than twelve months for it. Plus, it must’ve been punishable by a maximum of ten years or more. And if it’s a drug prior then it can’t be old, meaning it’s been more than fifteen years since you were released from custody on it. But if it’s a violent prior then no conviction is too old.

Serving your sentence close to home. Yes, the government must imprison you as close to home as possible. But that rule is subject to bed availability, your security status, and other factors like what programs are available where. So it depends. And whatever the government decides, you can’t use this law to challenge it in court.

Obtaining compassionate release. The law significantly expands the use of compassionate release because it empowers people to appeal to the courts if the prison doesn’t agree with them. And in cases of terminal illness, it speeds up the process to get them home. Finally, it expands a pilot program that allows the elderly and terminally-ill to serve out their sentences at home.

No restraints on women during pregnancy, labor, and postpartum recovery. Postpartum recovery refers to the first twelve weeks after delivery, or longer if your doctor says so. The ban has three exceptions. Two are if you pose an immediate, credible flight risk or an immediate, serious threat of harm to yourself or others that can’t reasonably be prevented another way. The third is if the doctor responsible for your health says it’s okay. Under any exception, the government must use the least restrictive means necessary to prevent the risk or threat. And specifically, they can’t do four things at all. They can’t restrain you around the ankles, legs, or waist. They can’t tie your hands behind your back. They can’t use four-point restraints that bind all limbs. And they can’t chain you to someone else. Whenever the government does restrain you, the responsible officer or deputy must submit a report within thirty days that explains what happened and why. And finally, if a doctor says so, the government must avoid all restraints and take off any it’s put on you.

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