The Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of more than 150 Black-led organizations, opposes the First Step Act. Despite a few positive measures, the First Step Act further harms incarcerated people and does little to stop or correct the state-sponsored intergenerational violence our communities experience.
Since the First Step Act was passed in the US House of Representatives, the Movement for Black Lives leadership has engaged in internal discussion, debate, and exploration of the bill’s proposed and potential impact to deepen our understanding about how the bill would advance or deter the objectives articulated in the Vision for Black Lives Policy Platform, a foundational 21st-century proposal for how to pass legislation that liberates, not further denigrates Black people. Through this process we have determined that the First Step Act, despite the few positive reforms, is a dangerous bill that if passed will cause further harm to many people currently incarcerated, continue the long history of violence against our communities, and introduce new ways to rob our people of the freedom and justice we deserve.
We recognize that the positive aspects of this bill are the product of the tireless work of advocates who have worked to create inroads for meaningful reforms in a moment of heightened attacks on ALL Black people. Our opposition to the First Step Act is not directed at those who support this bill and whose hopes are rooted in seeing their loved ones free. Our opposition is directed towards a bill that we believe will do more harm than good. We believe that in addition to not reaching far enough to ensure our peoples’ freedom from all forms of incarceration, the First Step Act is an intentionally divisive bill that authors a dangerous future for all of our families and communities.
We oppose the First Step Act for the following reasons:
- This bill is custom-made for rich white men. All of the carve outs make the vast majority of our people ineligible for the benefits of the bill. Moreover, by mandating post release surveillance the bill opens the door to increased privatization while causing additional harm to the most marginalized of our people. We believe all of this will be done while giving liberal cover to the Trump Administration as they attack, cage, and warehouse Black, brown, and working class people across the country.
- While the bill may increase earned good time credits, the bill denies the vast majority of people incarcerated in the federal system the ability to earn these credits. The most recent amendments to the bill in the US Senate increase these carve-outs and reflect an intended effort to deny Black people, Black immigrants, and Black women the ability to come home.
- The bill attempts to address sentencing reform, but is not retroactive for most of our people. The denial of retroactivity re-affirms the conservative nature of the bill and its disinterest in repairing the harms caused by the several decades of criminalization, tearing apart of families, and punishment that have harmed Black families and communities.
- The bill further entrenches the current federal prison system in the racist practice of using risk assessments to assess eligibility for recidivism reduction programming and early release. The Movement for Black Lives has been actively fighting the implementation and use of risk assessments in our fights to end money bail and pre-trial detention across the country. We oppose efforts that would trade false promises of bringing Black people home with an increased carceral infrastructure and reach of the racist technologies and practices that we are actively fighting in campaigns nationwide.
- The bill uses harmful risk assessments to determine who will have access to rehabilitation programming materials, using criteria that fails to meet even basic Americans with Disabilities Act standards. We reject the implementation of risk assessments that will create more barriers to early release and further marginalize d/Deaf, Autistic, and/or Disabled people.
- The shackling of incarcerated people who are pregnant is a practice that is currently against federal prison policy. While the First Step Act would make this policy law, it also has language that is a threat to protecting and advancing reproductive justice.
- The bill explicitly excludes immigrants from access to early release and rehabilitation programs. We reject the increasing efforts to incarcerate and criminalize immigrant communities or exclude them from efforts to bring our people home. This exclusion advances the anti-immigrant and anti-Black agenda of the Trump Administration.
- The bill mandates the use of electronic monitoring for those deemed eligible for early release, which will expand both the reach of incarceration and surveillance practices into our communities while advancing the profiteering agendas of companies who benefit from the caging and monitoring of black people.
- The bill directs savings created from the early release practices to be re-invested into law enforcement. Organizations across the Movement for Black Lives ecosystem are actively waging campaigns to divest money and resources from law enforcement. We will not support efforts to increase the budgets of law enforcement or create more opportunities for law enforcement agencies to hoard resources that should be invested in Black people’s control and implementation of community-based alternatives to incarceration.
A true first step would decrease rather than increase opportunities for more profiteering. It would reduce the number of people incarcerated without entrenching racial disparities and it would shift significant investments away from law enforcement and prisons and into our communities.
The First Step Act undermines our ability to protect our communities, and therefore we do not support it. We demand and are willing to continue to work for meaningful, justice-centered, measures that center the need for transformative justice — where healing, power, resources and genuine freedom for Black people is a top priority.
The Movement For Black Lives (M4BL) is an ecosystem of organizations creating a shared vision and policy agenda to win rights, recognition, and resources for Black people. Our Vision for Black Lives Policy Platform offers innovative, 21st-century policy solutions that beat back bad governance and racist legislation. M4BL functions as the infrastructure connecting and training the next generation of human rights leaders while strengthening the organizations to which they belong.