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Early and promising feedback on federal sentencing reform law

Early reviews are in on recent federal legislation aimed at criminal sentencing reform. Although somewhat limited in scope, they seem promising.

Many readers of our Denver criminal law blogs at Shazam & Associates might likely know a thing or two (or, concededly, command considerable knowledge) about a federal bill entitled the First Step Act. That statutory enactment became law following President Trump’s signature affixed late last year.

Much can be implied from the legislation’s title, which renders it clear that the law’s initial range and capacity are intended to be something less than absolute. Moreover, advocates strongly and clearly stress their certainty that First Step is all about the future and truly substantive reform measures that will be progressively announced.

For now, notes one recent media spotlight on the reform initiative, the law is a “modest step” and a “starting point” for multiple and material reforms on the horizon.

Despite the limited information forthcoming so far, First Step has unquestionably offered up some salutary results that raise reformers’ hopes for future sentencing tweaks. Among other things, these positive outcomes realized over just the past few months have been linked to the legislation:

  • 1,000-plus federal inmates granted sentence reductions
  • Return of long-denied discretion to judges considering mandatory minimum sentencing scenarios
  • Sentencing adjustments that have addressed and rectified to an extent disproportionate racial impacts, especially in cases involving drug charges
  • Replacement of mandatory life sentences in select cases with a maximum 25-year incarceration term

First Step commands broad and bipartisan support, with adherents nationwide hailing current and projected reforms stated to be absolutely necessary to promote justice, reduce recidivism and inject fiscal sanity into the criminal justice realm.

Their arguments are both cogent and urgent. Reportedly, the nation’s prison population at federal facilities has swelled by more than 700% over the past 40 years.

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