2019-05-15 National Governors Association

Coalition Letter on First Step Act Appropriations

Coalition Letter from NGA, the Association of State Correctional Administrators, the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the International Community of Corrections Association, and the National Criminal Justice Association to Congress requesting full funding for the First Step Act in the fiscal year 2020 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill.



Full text: 


April 23, 2019



The Honorable José E. Serrano
Chair, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science & Related Agencies
House Committee on Appropriations
Capitol Building, H-310
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Robert Aderholt
Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science & Related Agencies
House Committee on Appropriations
1203 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Jerry Moran
Chair, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science & Related Agencies
Senate Committee on Appropriations
521 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Jeanne Shaheen
Ranking Member, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science & Related Agencies
506 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510


Dear Chairman Serrano and Ranking Member Aderholt, Chairman Moran and Ranking Member Shaheen:

We, the undersigned national associations representing state and local policymakers, are writing to urge you to fully fund the First Step Act in the FY 2020 Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill. Enacted in December 2018, the First Step Act aims to improve the federal criminal justice system by better aligning some sentencing laws with public safety priorities, providing judges greater flexibility in determining the appropriate sentence for individual defendants, and expanding recidivism reduction programming for individuals incarcerated in federal prisons.

Title I of the First Step Act requires the Attorney General to develop and implement a system whereby incarcerated individuals can participate in recidivism reduction programming and earn rewards, such as time credits toward pre-release custody, as well as phone and visiting privileges, among others. The law requires that the Attorney General develop a risk assessment tool that will be employed by the Bureau of Prisons to assess each individual’s risk of reoffending and inform both programming assignments and reward determinations. The law also contemplates the creation of an independent review committee which will help the Attorney General develop and evaluate the tool.

As you know, a broad bipartisan coalition recognized that changes to the criminal justice system were needed and came together to help pass the First Step Act. There was particular consensus around the importance of starting efforts to reduce people’s chances of reoffending upon release while still incarcerated. The system set forth in the First Step Act that incentivizes incarcerated individuals to participate in programming that will reduce their risk of reoffending is important and has the laudable goal of improving public safety.

However, the Bureau of Prisons currently does not have a validated risk assessment tool for use in such a system or the capacity to provide the breadth of programming as set forth in the Act. In order to assist with implementation of the system created under the First Step Act, Title I is authorized at $75 million. We write to request that it be funded at $75 million in FY20 in order to allow the Attorney General to fully implement this title. Doing so would expand much-needed programming for incarcerated individuals and allow them to readily access it, thereby taking concrete steps toward rehabilitation.

The landmark First Step Act passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and represents the most significant change to the federal criminal justice system in two decades. The next step to fulfill Congress’ intent is to fully fund the Act to make the reform a reality.



Kevin Kempf
Executive Director
Association of State Correctional Administrators

Megan Quattlebaum
The Council of State Governments Justice Center

Ellen Donnarumma
International Community Corrections Association

Chris Kervick
National Criminal Justice Association

Scott D. Pattison
President and CEO
National Governors Association



National Governors Association

Founded in 1908, the National Governors Association (NGA) is the nonpartisan organization of the nation’s 55 governors. Through NGA, governors share best practices, address issues of national and state interest and share innovative solutions that improve state government and support the principles of federalism.