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FAQs About the Federal First Step Act


After years of debate and multiple variations on a bill for federal criminal justice reform, lawmakers passed a law entitled the “Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person.” Familiarly known as the FIRST STEP Act, the measure offers legal relief for certain inmates who are currently serving time for violations of federal law. There are multiple provisions that may affect your rights if you qualify, so it is important to understand how you could benefit. A Wilmington criminal appeals and post-conviction relief attorney can offer details regarding your case, but answers to some common questions may help.

What is the Federal First Step Act? The law is a reform measure intended to improve the federal criminal justice system, which many within the US Senate and House believed was harsh, outdated, and draconian. There were previous attempts to change the criminal statutes and procedures, but these bills never made it through initial committee phases in either house. Lawmakers revised the language, ultimately passing the First Step Act.

There are multiple provisions that may affect the rights and status of currently incarcerated inmates, including some that focus on sentencing in particular. The law’s sponsors point out that there are more people imprisoned in federal correctional centers than in any one US state, so the goal is to reduce these massive levels of incarceration. In addition, the First Step Act makes more inmates eligible for programs that could lead to early release. 

What does the First Step Act say about mandatory minimums? After passage of the statute, judges have more discretion to stray from the federal sentencing guidelines on mandatory minimum prison terms. In the past, a judge did not have a choice but to use the requirements listed by law. This provision will have a profound effect on individuals convicted on nonviolent drug crimes and offenders who have limited criminal histories. For the mandatory minimum sentences that do remain, the incarceration terms may be reduced by up to 15 years.

Does the law change credit for time served? The First Step Act also expands a program that allows for “good time” credits, which inmates can earn and apply to reduce their prison time. Good behavior and participation in rehabilitation programs can lead to release months earlier than the original sentence.  

Am I allowed to be closer to my family? Yes, the law requires you to serve your time in a federal correctional center that is no more than 500 miles from your principal residence. Lawmakers recognized that former inmates more easily reintegrate into their communities when they have the support of loved ones, so the objective is to alleviate travel burdens.

Learn More by Consulting with a Knowledgeable Criminal Defense Attorney 

If you would like additional details about the First Step Act and eligibility for the remedies allowed by law, please contact Attorney Michael W. Modica by calling 302.600.1262 or via our website. We can set up a consultation at our Wilmington, DE office to review your circumstances and determine whether you qualify for post-conviction relief.


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