'Second Step Act' Aims to Help Formerly Incarcerated Secure Employment

U.S. President Donald Trump listens as International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) President and Police Chief Paul Cell speaks during bill signing for the “First Step Act” and the “Juvenile Justice Reform Act” in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

President Donald Trump held an event to celebrate the passage of the First Step Act, a bipartisan law that seeks to reduce the risk of recidivism and mitigate mass incarceration. The April 1 event brought together nearly 300 guests, including people convicted of felonies.

The First Step Act brought together strange bedfellows, including the Koch brothers and the American Civil Liberties Union. Following the passage of the First Step Act in December 2018, the president also promised the creation of a Second Step Act — although he did not provide specific details on what it may entail.

"Today I'm announcing that the Second Step Act will be focused on successful re-entry and reduce unemployment for Americans with past criminal records and that's what we're starting," the president said on Monday. “As president, I pledged to work with both parties for the good of the whole nation,” he said, adding that the United States believes in redemption.

The First Step Act would allow prisoners to earn “time credits” by participating in rehabilitative and vocational programs. The credits would allow them to be released to home confinement, Vox reported. Trump noted that 16,000 inmates have enrolled in drug treatment programs since he signed the bill into law. “In less than four months more than 500 people with unfair sentences have been released from prison and are free to begin a new life,” Trump added.

The bill — propelled by son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner — has been hailed as a significant step to reforming criminal justice in recent years. For some, this legislation is a reversal from Trump’s original position to strengthen already draconian criminal justice measures.

“It has elevated criminal justice reform as a rare space for bipartisan consensus and cooperation in a fractured national political environment. With an awareness of that consensus, we should push for the bigger next steps that will move us toward ending mass incarceration,” the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute that works to end mass incarceration, wrote in a January blog.

Others, however, view the move with skepticism.

The credit system would exclude groups such as undocumented immigrants and others convicted of high-level offenses, Vox continued. The bill still needs to be completely funded — the legislation requests $75 million a year in the next five years, but Trump’s proposed budget only calls for $14 million, The Marshall Project reported.

“I hope that the president’s budget has been amended to specifically fund First Step, but there is so much that needs to be done after that,” Holly Harris, the executive director of Justice Action Network, told The New York Times. “We need the president to lean in hard on his allies in Congress.”

About the Author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review, Mic.com, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and US politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.