Implementation of the First Step Act: The Risk and Needs Assessment System

Brief

Implementation of the First Step Act: The Risk and Needs Assessment System

Abstract

The December 2018 First Step Act sought to address many long-standing problems in the federal prison system. This brief focuses on implementation of the act’s risk and needs assessment system, intended to incentivize people in federal prison to pursue recidivism reduction programming that can sometimes reduce their time behind bars. We summarize that system’s key requirements and major takeaways so far; detail the progress and challenges encountered in developing and implementing the risk assessment tool, needs assessment process, and earned time credits; and offer recommendations for improvement including suggestions to expand eligibility for early release or transfer and to consider the equity of the risk assessment tool. We conclude that the US Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) could take a more vigorous approach to implement the law and fully realize the potential of the risk and needs assessment system to reduce recidivism and time spent in federal prisons. 

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