President Trump highly valued safety through law enforcement on the 2016 campaign trail. Enforcing laws also includes sentencing; some convicts deserve longer prison sentences while others receive too much time behind bars for minor offenses. The First Step Act, which has passed through the House of Representatives, is waiting on a vote from the Senate. However, critics from the National Sheriff’s Association say the bill is too lax and will do more harm than good.
The bill is intended to provide programs and opportunities to inmates who are scheduled for release from prison, and to assess their risk for recidivism. The proposal covers assessment, but it offers little to help the inmates get set up for success outside of incarceration. If the recidivism rate is going to decline, education needs to be available on how to avoid becoming a repeat offender.
Recidivism is a problem with inmates who are released from jail. However, prison programs cannot help those who do not want to change their ways. A study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that 83% of former inmates will be rearrested within nine years of their release.
The First Step bill relies heavily on assessment, but doesn’t provide a framework to help convicts avoid becoming repeat offenders. Prisoner evaluations can occur, but unless they have made a genuine change of heart this bill will be another failure. Many times, released inmates only know a lifestyle filled with crime, which causes them to fall back into their old ways.
It would be nice to have fewer people in prison. Avoiding the problem of repeat offenders is the ultimate goal. However, with little mentioned in the bill regarding education, counseling, or work placement, one wonders how the repeat offender rate will be reduced.
The bill requires assessment of 180,000 prisoners within 180 days of its enactment, which is entirely unrealistic. The steps of getting a program organized, determining who would qualify, implementing the program, finding teachers, and completing the plan within that timeframe are virtually impossible.
Police Recruitment Issues
The First Step Act may release approximately 4,000 violent offenders back into society immediately. Some of those will be MS-13 gang members as well as fentanyl and heroin dealers. These are the people who Trump campaigned on getting out of society by backing police officers and pushing stronger prison sentences. It appears a Republican Congress is set out to do the complete opposite of what the president promised.
America’s economy is soaring under Trump. While this is great for the private sector, job growth and overall fiscal opportunity for all, law enforcement recruiting tends to suffer during economic success. Police officers are not paid much for their work. As the job market opens up and grows, fewer people will be interested in donning the uniform, while current police officers leave law enforcement altogether, looking for more money. As this happens, society doesn’t need more criminals released and fewer officers on the road.
Some cities can afford to pay their officers well, but there are not many who can or do. Furthermore, some agencies are so mismanaged that they cannot retain employees; it does not matter how much money such an agency pays, there will be officers who leave. Not to mention that overall disrespect toward the police is rampant.
If there is a prison reform bill, it needs to have more provisions and plans. The writing in this proposed legislation is vague, offering little in the way of real solutions.
In the end, this bill will probably be another waste of tax payer’s money.