Stepping Up: The First Step Act and Criminal Justice Reform

(Source)   America incarcerates people at a higher rate than any country in the world. The highly politicized War on Drugs led to a spike in incarceration, particularly in lower-income and minority communities. Although the prison population in the United States has declined since 2016, incarceration and recidivism rates remain high. According to a study by the United States Sentencing Commission, more than half of a group of 25,000 recently released individuals were rearrested for new crimes or violations of supervision conditions. Although recidivism rates vary depending on factors such as sentence length and an individual’s previous exposure the criminal justice system, the overall rate of recidivism looks bleak. In 2018, Congress enacted the First Step Act to target high mandatory minimum sentences and recidivism rates in the federal carceral system.   A First Step Forward The First Step Act reforms mandatory minimum sentencing laws, introduces earned time credit and improves good time credit systems, and remedies compassionate release programs in federal prisons. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws restrict judicial discretion in sentencing and force judges to impose certain penalties for certain crimes, typically focusing on drug-related offenses. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 is the major source of mandatory minimum [read more]

The Erosion of Free Will and Its Legal Implications

By Noah Danielson The state of our knowledge about “free will” is still very unsettled. Much of the research in this field is the subject of hotly contested debate and answers to many important questions remain up in the air. However, a number of studies have corroded the edges of a previously widely accepted principal: that human decisions are the result of conscious choices. This idea is central to the retributivist theory of justice, by which a willful wrongdoer’s blameworthiness subjects them to punishment. Human Understanding of Our Conscious Choice In a study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, researchers found that transcranial stimulation – magnetic stimulation of the nerve cells in the brain – could impact human choices. Researchers asked participants to randomly raise their hand 50 times. Prior to stimulation, a right-handed person would select their right hand 60% of the time. After transcranial stimulation, the same person would select their left hand 80% of the time. Interestingly, participants still reported that they believed their choices had been made freely. The results suggest that the conscious mind may mistakenly believe that conscious intent is the impetus for an action, when in actuality there is an outside [read more]