WASHINGTON – This week, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-08) joined the U.S. House of Representatives and passed the FIRST STEP Act [H.R. 5682] with the support of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, sending the bill to the Senate.
The Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed, Safely Transitioning Every Person Act (FIRST STEP) aims to improve public safety while lowering recidivism and prison populations through rehabilitative programing, enabling newly-released individuals to more successfully re-enter society. The legislation authorizes $50 million per year for five years to develop programs related to education, vocational training and mental health counseling.
“We can all agree that our prisons need to be reformed. I’m pleased that the Problem Solvers Caucus endorsed, and the House passed, the FIRST Step Act, giving federally incarcerated inmates a better opportunity to change their lives,” said Fitzpatrick. “Instead of focusing on partisanship, the Problems Solvers in Congress are committed to focusing on goodwill and compromise. We are committed elevating the debate to the serious, responsible level that our times demand. Prison reform can be the start of many good bipartisan conversations.”
Prison reform initiatives have demonstrated success in state systems. The FIRST STEP Act would enable the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to capitalize on similar resources at the federal level. The legislation would direct the BOP to conduct risk- and needs-assessments for every offender upon sentencing, and then to offer individualized, evidence-based recidivism reduction plans to all inmates. Programs could include vocational training, educational support, substance abuse treatment, mental health care, anger-management courses, faith-based initiatives or other resources proven to lower the chance that men and women reoffend.
The FIRST STEP Act would also prepare individuals to reenter their communities as responsible citizens by allowing them to serve the final days of their sentences in halfway houses or home confinement, which equips them with support structures as they transition out of custody. As inmates progress through rehabilitation plans tailored to their needs and approach the end of their sentences, the BOP would conduct risk- and needs-assessments more frequently in order to document when individuals have successfully reduced their risk of reoffending and to ensure that the most appropriate resources remain available to them during the reentry process.
Additional provisions of the bill would require that prisoners be placed in facilities located nearer their families, prohibit female inmates from being shackled during child birth and provide individuals leaving custody with identification documents that are often prerequisites for employment.
The Problem Solvers Caucus is a bipartisan group in Congress comprising of 48 members – equally divided between Democrats and Republicans – who are committed to forging bipartisan cooperation on key issues. It is co-chaired by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY).
Problem Solvers Caucus Co-Chair Tom Reed (R-NY) said, “Prison reform shouldn’t be a Republican or Democrat issue, and today the Problem Solvers Caucus took another step forward in breaking the gridlock in Washington. As a caucus, we are working together to legislate and govern to make a positive impact on our communities. The current prison system is not fair for those released or the neighborhoods they return to. I care about rehabilitating our nation’s prison population so that when they re-enter society they can make a positive impact on their communities.”
Problem Solvers Caucus Co-Chair Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) said, “Democrats and Republicans agree—our current prison system must be reformed. We waste massive amounts of money on strategies that make our communities less, not more safe. We need to stop the revolving door into prisons, reduce recidivism, and save taxpayers money. The bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus is committed to working with both sides to break through the gridlock and find common-sense solutions to our toughest challenges issues — and prison reform is a perfect example.”