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DOJ announces release of 3,100 inmates as 'first step' of criminal justice reform law


'Today's announcement is only the 'first step' of a longer journey'

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At a Friday morning news conference, the Department of Justice announced that the first group 3,100 federal inmates would be released under the provisions of a 2018 criminal justice law.

The Justice Department explained that the 3,100 inmates were being released under the increase in good-conduct time credits allowed under the First Step Act, which was signed by President Trump in December.

"Our communities are safer when we do a better job of rehabilitating offenders in our custody and preparing them for a successful transition to life after incarceration," Attorney General William Barr said in a statement. "The Department is committed to and has been working towards full implementation of the First Step Act, which will help us effectively deploy resources to help reduce risk, recidivism, and crime."

At Friday's news conference, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said that "today's announcement is only the 'first step' of a longer journey towards the comprehensive implementation of the First Step Act, which the department, as I've said, will continue to pursue vigorously."

The department also announced the creation of a new risk assessment system — The Risk and Needs Assessment Tool as a major part of its implementation of the law.

"The new system will be used to assess all federal inmates for risk and identify criminogenic needs that can be addressed by evidence-based programs, such as drug treatment, job training, and education," the DOJ explained in its news release. The system will seek to predict the likelihood of general and violent recidivism among federal inmates and help officials decide which prisoners will be eligible to go to halfway houses early under the law.

As part of the law, the DOJ announced earlier this year that it would also start connecting inmates with potential future employers through the "Ready to Work" program, which is meant to be part of a "holistic approach" to implementing the 2018 law.

"I am very optimistic about the future of the First Step Act because of the faithful implementation we've seen so far from the Justice Department," said top House Judiciary Committee Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) in a statement following the news. "I look forward to seeing how the Bureau of Prisons uses its new risk assessment tool to track the impact its recidivism reduction programs are having over the coming months and years."

Congress "struck a bipartisan blow against the mass incarceration epidemic," reads a tweet from House Judiciary Committee Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). "Over 3000 men & women are being released today as a result. CHANGE."

While many hailed the new law as a long-needed reform to the criminal justice system, others warned about the potential consequences the bill could have on public safety once implemented.

For, example, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said last year that "reducing sentences for drug traffickers and violent felons is a threat to public safety."

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