Late last week, President Trump announced his support for the First Step Act. The proposal is a bipartisan effort to amend old laws on the books that have led to what many critics consider harsh sentencing policies.
The New York Times reports the legislation would “combine new funding for anti-recidivism programs, the expansion of early-release credits for prisoners and the reduction of certain mandatory minimum sentences.” Reforming mandatory minimums will affect women especially due to the "Girlfriend Problem."
In a heart wrenching story by Rolling Stone, Cynthia Shank shared her story of incarceration following her relationship with a convicted drug dealer. The "Girlfriend Problem" is the trend in our criminal justice system to deliver “severe and punitive sentences” to people who are associated with criminals but may not have shared full knowledge of the crime—often resulting in long sentences to women. Despite her testimony that she was abused and coerced, Cynthia Shank was convicted and received a sentence of 15 years.
The First Step Act would affect women like Cynthia. President Trump put it this way in his announcement in explaining the need for reform: “In many respects, we’re getting very much tougher on the truly bad criminals. But we’re treating people differently for different crimes. Some people got caught up in situations that were very bad.”
Another aspect of the First Step Act includes legislation that would “prohibit the shackling of female inmates while pregnant.” This is humane. I believe there is hope for change following the criminal justice reforms across the states during midterms.
Criminal justice reform is no longer a wedge issue—it finds support across the spectrum from Trump to the Kardashians. I applaud the administration for working to end these one-size-fits-all policies.