Critics of the First Step Act, designed to reduce federal sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, say judges are being given too much leeway in deciding who can be released early, according to The New York Times.
President Trump signed The First Step Act into law in December 2018. The goal of the bipartisan legislation was to address the disparity in drug sentencing that led to much harsher penalties for crack cocaine convictions than for other drug offenses. The disparity led to the imprisonment of a disproportionate number of Black men.
As of January, 2,387 inmates had their sentences reduced out of 2,660 that the United States Sentencing Commission estimated were eligible.
The law did not mandate that judges must resentence eligible inmates. “It’s like the luck of the draw,” said Sarah Ryan, a professor at Wesleyan University who has analyzed hundreds of First Step Act resentencing cases. “You’ve got people sitting in prison during a pandemic, and it’s not supposed to come down to who your judge is. It’s supposed to come down to the law.”