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'First Step Act' moves to make criminal justice reform a reality

Meaningful criminal justice reform may be just around the corner. A bipartisan effort moved the criminal justice reform bill called the "First Step Act" through the Senate after languishing over a few tricky details for months. It's widely expected that the bill will make it to the president's desk sometime next year.

It may surprise a lot of people to realize that the idea for the bill was born in Texas. State leaders recognized the fact that the prison populations were loaded with nonviolent drug offenders. Many of those offenders were serving long terms because they were repeat offenders.

In essence, the legal system's current mandatory minimum sentence requirements take power away from judges and turn drug addiction into a crime (whenever an addict is caught with drugs or caught selling drugs to pay for his or her own habit). This is a huge drain on the criminal justice system -- and the nation.

Under the new bill, the Justice Department would be tasked with finding ways to reduce repeat offenses. It would also give judges a bit more leeway when it comes to sentencing nonviolent criminals. It would also offer nonviolent criminals who participate in educational and vocational programs a way out of prison early.

The nation's leaders are finally recognizing that there are some inherently unfair things about how the criminal justice system operates toward nonviolent drug offenders. However, it's important to understand that all reforms take time. The changes won't be immediate.

Despite the changing national attitudes toward addiction and drugs, you can still end up facing serious consequences if you are charged and convicted of a crime. If you're arrested on a drug charge of any kind, protect your own interests by remaining silent until you talk with an attorney about your options and your rights.

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