FIRST STEP Act

Trump's Budget Shortchanges the Prison Reform Bill He Signed

The FIRST STEP Act called for $75 million for reentry programs. It's not listed in the White House's summary.

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President Donald Trump signing FIRST STEP Act
Oliver Contreras/Sipa USA/Newscom

In President Donald Trump's proposed 2020 budget, released Monday, here's how the White House talked about funding for criminal justice reform:

The Administration is committed to breaking this cycle of recidivism by better preparing individuals to reenter communities and to mitigating the collateral consequences of incarceration. In addition to backing criminal justice reform through the FIRST STEP Act, the Administration supports efforts to bolster evidence-based programming in Federal correctional institutions. The Budget provides approximately $754 million for reentry programming in the Bureau of Prisons, including funding for education, career and technical training, substance abuse, and residential reentry centers. Of this amount, the Budget provides $14 million for the development of new and innovative pilot programs designed to address the needs of individuals incarcerated in Federal prisons.

There is a bit of a problem, here, though. That $14 million for new pilot programs is all well and good, but when the FIRST STEP Act was passed, it called for $75 million per year for five years to implement all its changes. The money doesn't appear to be listed here.

Reason's Eric Boehm noted in February that the omnibus spending bill passing through Congress did not have this money in it, and the bipartisan groups that pushed for the passage of the FIRST STEP Act were alarmed by its absence.

Now, groups are further alarmed that while Trump's budget proposal specifically invokes the Act's name, it doesn't clearly delineate that $75 million as part of the proposal. This doesn't mean it isn't going to be fully funded, but it's not clear where and how, and according to The Marshall Project, the White House is declining to answer their questions. Justin George notes:

Money for the law's costs could be set aside by the Department of Justice, but it was awaiting the confirmation of a new attorney general. That didn't happen until last month when William Barr was confirmed.

Monday marked the start of the lengthy budget process, which lasts into the fall and involves additions, subtractions, negotiations and redrafts between federal agencies, the White House and Congress. It is Congress that allocates funding. While nothing has been written in stone, Trump's plan indicates what the White House considers important, and it may foretell political fights to come over empowering the law or leaving it toothless.

The $754 million referenced for reentry systems refers to existing programs, and it's a $15 million increase over 2019's spending. Even if that increase all goes to expanded job training and other programs in the FIRST STEP Act designed to ease federal prisoners back into the real world, help them become functioning members of society, and hopefully not commit new crimes, that's still only half the money called for in the legislation.

To be clear, because we're big on reducing government waste and cutting spending, the Justice Department's budget doesn't have to increase by exactly $75 million to cover the expenses of the FIRST STEP Act. And it most certainly doesn't need to. We can say with confidence that there's already enough money sloshing around in the Justice Department to fully fund the legislation's new programs.

We should be concerned, though, that this budget summary doesn't indicate it has any plans to do so. Criminal justice reformers on the left, center, and right all came together to push through these very, very modest changes. Trump signed the bill and praised it, even referencing it in his last State of the Union address. He wants credit for the bill's passage, but that credit also requires that it actually be implemented, not just passed.

Here's a suggestion! The White House is proposing in this budget plan shifting responsibility for tobacco and alcohol enforcement entirely out of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to the Treasury Department instead. Why not put the rest of its duties in the hands of the FBI and kill the agency entirely?

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  1. “”but when the FIRST STEP Act was passed, it called for $75 million per year for five years to implement all its changes. The money doesn’t appear to be listed here.”‘

    The House is responsible for the purse. They can add the money for it.

  2. NOT FULLY FUNDED!

  3. All signs internationally point to a major military confrontation between the USA and some type of coalition of convention between Russia, China, and Iran. It will probably be mostly a conventional war in nature, but there may be some touches of high stratosphere EMP explosions that push the boundaries of what a rational POTUS would respond to with an all-out nuclear Armageddon-style retaliation.

    For one thing, it’s hard to prove who caused some type of fleeting aberrant nuclear event in the stratosphere. Very little fall-out to analyze for isotopes.

    The other factor is that America has neglected its conventional warfare capability while waging these wars of attrition in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have gotten adequately good at fighting tribesmen armed with AK-47s, RPGs, and IEDs, but who the hell knows how we will do against the latest generation weapons coming out of Chinese and Russian factories that can kill Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, and F-16 Falcons with ease because they were specifically designed to be superb at those tasks, and our weapons have had only token upgrades.

    All this war talk will leave no money for prisons, human services, pensions, health care, NASA (other than a Space Force) or anything else, even natural disasters. Not if we wish to be ready.

    1. One thing we should know is that if the USA is not ready for war no other country is either.

      Nazi Germany had the baddest military in the World and they were wrong about being ready for war.

      The USSR was wrong about being ready for war in Afghanistan.

      The USA should not be in Iraq or Afghanistan anymore but we are leaving on our terms. There is really nobody left to shoot at. We don’t want to control those countries forever and there are no enemies that can kick us out.

      Taliban, ISIS, and Al Qaeda all had RPGs which use HEAT rounds and similar to be decent against modern armor.

      1. HEAT rounds countered by modern tanks (like T-14 Armata) with anti-projectile systems that shoot incoming rounds out of sky. Don’t actually have to be that powerful as HEAT rounds (typically super heated molten copper) cool within a few meters once detonated. They just have to be pre-maturely triggered.

        Russia will have six Poseidon drone-torpedoes each carrying an up to 200 Megaton nuclear warhead on board the dedicated mother submarine Belgorod, which is an older weapons research submarine already in service. The Belgorod will actually tow another new all-battery submarine that will carry the torpedoes. This sub is fairly long range and extremely stealthy. It is unmanned and can go quite deep.

        One possible use of the 200 Megaton Super Tsar Bombs would be to cut all existing underwater fiber optic and wire cables in one big blast in a way that would be un-patchable. In conjunction with an atmospheric EMP attack and space attacks on communications satellite, this could leave the USA blacked out from the world, an incredible economic blow.

        Of course, Putin and that nice Chairman Xi would never do anything like that. The Japs would never bomb Pearl Harbor, either.

        I wonder if I will be get in trouble for saying Japs. My white privilege is showing, racist Trumpist and all that. The things we focus on instead of the real threats!

  4. OH MY GOD REASON.

    The prison system doesn’t need more money it needs less. Not funding programs to teach prisoners that their crimes are caused by a disease of the brain is a good thing.

    Rejoice, my people! (Are there any libertarians left on this shithole planet??)

  5. Maybe its not needed since the economy is rocking so hard, recently released inmates can get jobs?

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  7. Ah, the classical every Republican administration repeated attempt robbery of the middle-class and elderly. Give their wealthy donors an unnecessary and unaffordeable massive tax break that creates a massive
    tax shortfall and budget deficit, then blame their created deficit on the costs of the comparative meager middle-class entitlements programs which now the Republican flimflam artists claim must be cut to reduce
    their latest threatening fat-cat tax break created swindle. To fall for this transparent blatant scam average Joe and Jane need to be naive, gullible, a 3rd grade drop out, or just plain stupid.

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