16 May, 2018 9:07 AM

#cut50 Letter of Support - FIRST STEP Act

#cut50

Re:   Support for HR 5682 The FIRST STEP Act

This letter is written on behalf of #cut50 and more than 70 other organizations and individuals who support the FIRST STEP Act, which would improve the condition and opportunities for incarcerated individuals, reduce the risk of recidivism upon release from prison, and promote public safety.

We envision a criminal justice system that recognizes the humanity of the 2.2 million people currently behind bars in America and moves toward compassion and treatment rather than punishment and incarceration. HR 5682 falls in line with our mission by improving the conditions for incarcerated individuals, reducing the amount of time people spend in prison, and provide meaningful opportunities to successfully transition into their communities.

We are thankful for the efforts of Congressman Hakeem Jeffries and Congressman Doug Collins to work in a bipartisan fashion that greatly improves this bill with meaningful reform. The authors have worked together with groups of advocates, fellow Members of Congress, and heard directly from formerly incarcerated individuals with lived experiences through the federal prison system. We are also encouraged by strong support from both Republicans and Democrats as this bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on May 9th, 2018.

In 2015, 3 out of 10 federal prisoners and 6 out of 10 state prisoners released to a term of community supervision returned to prison within 5 years. Far too many struggle with unemployment, housing instability, and substance addiction when they come home. Many have difficulty overcoming the trauma they experienced during their incarceration and reestablishing ties to family and community that were damaged by their incarceration. We strongly believe that the provisions of HR 5682 will lead to better outcomes for individuals reintegrating back into their communities. Establishing a system that provides guidance and intensity of evidenced-based recidivism reduction programming will provide the necessary resources for individuals to prepare for release.

This bill works to improve the lives of the incarcerated men and women, their children, and their families by:

 

Reducing the number of people incarcerated in federal prisons

This bill will immediately make over four thousand people in federal prison eligible for early release - by fixing a good time credit calculation retroactively. Men and women in incarcerated federal prison will earn nearly 8 weeks (54 days) per year off of their sentence for good time. Thousands more will soon become eligible to move from Bureau of Prisons facilities into home detention as a result of the expansion of the elderly prisoner pilot program - which gives people 60 years or older who have served more than 2/3 of their sentence an opportunity to serve the remainder of their sentence on home confinement.

The bill will expand the capacity of prison programming to ensure that individuals inside can benefit from counseling, drug treatment, training and education. By participating in programming, individuals will earn credits (at a rate of 10 days for every 30 of participating in programming) that allow them to shorten the amount of time they spend in prison and release back to their communities and families sooner - via expanded use of home confinement.  It provides a pathway to prerelease for even those deemed “high” or “medium” risk.

 

Increasing opportunities for programming and work within the walls

Currently, there is a significant lack of programming inside the federal prisons.  HR 5682 authorizes $50,000,000 each year for FY 2019 through 2023 (quarter of a billion), which can be used for programming.  This bill also allows more outside nonprofits, volunteers and faith-based groups to go into federal prisons to provide programming.  These volunteers will not only provide critical programming, but also will serve as mentors to those inside and be a valuable asset in changing the culture within the institutions and bringing hope and compassion to those inside.

The bill also expands work programs so that those inside have an opportunity to work and save money in escrow accounts that they can use as they return home to get back on their feet.  HR 5682 also creates an ID program so that men and women returning to society have identification necessary to gain benefits, housing, and employment.

 

Protecting Women and Facilitating Family Connections

Currently, men and women can be housed thousands of miles away from their loved ones, left with little opportunity to maintain familial relationships that are critical to both their well being while inside and successful reentry.  HR 3556 will require that people living in federal prisons be housed within 500 driving miles of their families. Allowing individuals to serve their sentences in facilities closer to their family support system, maintains a healthy bond and strong ties to the community.

In the last two decades, the women’s prison population has risen by 700%.  Our prisons and policies were not designed to meet women’s needs and the result has been a system that traumatizes and endangers women. The FIRST STEP Act will end the shackling of women in labor and post-partum.  Shackling pregnant women is dangerous and inhumane. The shackling of pregnant women endangers the lives of the mother and fetus. HR 5682 sends a clear message of responsibility for the health and safety of both the mother and the fetus during pregnancy by banning the use of shackles. It will also provide hygiene items to women in prison at no charge and expand phone and visitation time that are vital to the rehabilitation process and to allowing the 80%of women who are mothers in prison stay connected to their children. The bill also contains a fix to Prison Rape Elimination Act, which will improve how the audits of prison rape incidents are conducted.

 

Providing Meaningful Oversight to Help Ensure Proper Implementation

HR 5682 will also place additional layers of accountability and oversight within the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Additionally, there will be an annual accountability report to ensure that the risk assessment tool is being administered in an unbiased way.  This is crucial as we continue to face vast racial disparities that negatively impact African American and Latino communities.

These are meaningful reforms. This is our best chance to pass this bill into law and dramatically change the lives of people inside - and expand accountability and oversight of the federal prison system.

The passage of HR 5682 will truly be the first step towards further progress that we hope will eventually include sentencing reform. #cut50, on behalf of the undersigned organizations and individuals, respectfully urge you to schedule a vote on this legislation and vote yes in support.

 

Sincerely,  

Jessica Jackson Sloan

Co-founder of #cut50

 

Van Jones

Co-founder of #cut50 and Board President of The Dream Corps

 

Supporting organizations:

  1. Aleph Institute
  2. Anti-Recidivism Coalition
  3. Ardella House
  4. Austin Reentry Advocacy Project
  5. Black Educational Achievement Movement
  6. Butterfly Life Journeys
  7. Campaign for Black Male Engagement
  8. CAN-DO Foundation
  9. Central Illinois All of Us or None
  10. Cities United
  11. Civil Survival
  12. Council of State Governments Justice Center
  13. Darrell Padgett
  14. Dave's Killer Bread Foundation
  15. Dawud Bey / Do4Self + Fine Print
  16. Drive Change NYC
  17. Ella Baker Center
  18. Families Against Mandatory Minimums
  19. Flikshop
  20. From Prison Cells to PhD
  21. Gathering for Justice/Justice League NYC
  22. Girls Embracing Mothers (GEM)
  23. Greenburger Center
  24. Hands of Hope Ministries
  25. Haven House Juneau
  26. Healing Communities USA
  27. IMSI Hope Community Phase II
  28. Just Detention USA
  29. Kansas Appleseed
  30. Ladies of Hope Ministries
  31. Maryland Justice Project
  32. Michigan United
  33. National Incarceration Association
  34. National Urban League
  35. Obodo
  36. Ohio Association of Formerly Incarcerated Offenders
  37. Operation New Hope
  38. Operation Restoration
  39. Osborne Association
  40. Project Liberation
  41. Project Return
  42. Promise of Justice Initiative
  43. Public Defender Association
  44. Real Cost of Prisons Project
  45. Reentry Campus Program
  46. Reentry Central
  47. Reinventing Reentry
  48. Restore HER
  49. ROC Wisconsin
  50. Root and Rebound
  51. Rory Fleming
  52. Sex Workers and Allies Network
  53. Shaka Senghor
  54. Shelton McElroy
  55. Soteria
  56. Systemic Change of Idaho
  57. Texas Criminal Justice Coalition
  58. The Last Mile
  59. The Living Harvest
  60. The Return Project and Big Pictures
  61. The WIRE (Women Involved in Reentry Efforts)
  62. Unlabeled Digital Media
  63. US Justice Action Network
  64. Vinny Schiraldi, Columbia Justice Lab
  65. VOTE NOLA
  66. Weldon Angelos
  67. What's Next Washington
  68. Women on the Rise
  69. Women Who Never Give Up
  70. Women With A Vision