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Reforms in the First Step Act

The First Step Act, a bill that is in Congress, would make a number of changes to the criminal justice system that could affect individuals in Texas. Some of its changes are issues that are already supposed to be enforced by the Bureau of Prisons but are not.

The bill would make changes in the sentencing of people convicted of offenses involving crack cocaine that were addressed in the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010 retroactive. That act made an effort to close the disparity between sentencing of people charged with cocaine-related offenses, who tended to be white, and those charged with crack cocaine offenses, who tended to be African-American. This is expected to affect around 2,600 people.

The bill would also give judges more discretion in mandatory minimum sentencing. Judges are only allowed to use this discretion with people who have no previous criminal history and are facing nonviolent drug-related charges. Around 2,000 people will be affected by its expansion to include people with limited criminal backgrounds. Some automatic sentences will also be made less severe.

There would be a number of other reforms. These include not shackling pregnant prisoners, expanding job and training opportunities, requiring housing for prisoners within 500 miles of their home or families, and providing an increase to 54 days from 47 days of time off for good behavior.

Despite reforms of this nature, people convicted of drug crimes may still face serious consequences. Some of those consequences may be legal, but there may be others as well such as being unable to get certain types of financial aid for education. A conviction could also affect a person's career prospects. People who are facing drug-related charges may want to contact an attorney. It might be possible to plead guilty to lesser charges or to successfully fight the charges in a trial.

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