The First Step Act, which is a bill that is being considered in Congress, might have an effect on some inmates in New York. It will make the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which addressed the sentencing disparity in cocaine and crack cocaine cases, retroactive, and this will affect approximately 2,600 inmates. They will still have to go to court to address the issue.
The act will also lessen the length of some automatic sentences and expand the number of people for whom judges are allowed to set aside mandatory minimum guidelines. Those guidelines apply to people with no criminal history, but the act will include people with only a minor criminal history.
A number of the provisions are already in place and are supposed to be enforced by the Bureau of Prisons, but federal investigations have shown that this is not the case. Under the act, prisoners will be placed within 500 miles of families or home, shackling pregnant women is prohibited, and there are expanded opportunities for education and training. There will be a retroactive change to the amount of time off for good behavior allowed, increasing from 47 to 54 days, and more use of halfway houses and home confinement. Prisoners would also get credit for time spent in rehabilitative programs, and there would be greater eligibility to release elderly or terminally ill prisoners.
People who are facing charges ranging from drug-related offenses to violent crimes may want to talk to an attorney about options for criminal defense. Even offenses that appear to be relatively minor may have serious consequences while for more serious crimes, even if a person is found guilty, it may be possible to negotiate a less severe sentence. Some people may want to consider a plea bargain, which involves pleading guilty instead of going to trial and usually getting a lighter sentence in return.