Black Lives Matter Global Network Responds to the United States Senate passage of the First Step Act, A Criminal Reform Package

On Tuesday, December 18, 2018 the U.S. Senate passed a criminal justice reform bill in an 87-12 vote. The bill, known as the FIRST STEP Act, or H.R 5682 is a bipartisan prison reform bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in May 2018.

Since 2013, Black Lives Matter Global Network has fought against injustices in Black communities, racial disparities, and the systemic issues that continue to disproportionately target poor, indigenous and migrant people. Since the inception of the FIRST STEP Act, Black Lives Matter Global Network, our co-founder and many of our allies, have expressed concern that while the FIRST STEP Act is framed as a step forward for criminal justice reform, it is in reality a flawed and misguided attempt to undermine the movement to end mass incarceration.   

While we acknowledge those who fought to include key provisions in the FIRST STEP Act, we believe that, as enacted, the FIRST STEP Act fails to address the systemic issues and driving forces behind mass incarceration and, more disturbingly it further invests in structural racism.

Our stance for opposition of the FIRST STEP Act is driven by the following:

  • While the FIRST STEP Act promotes earned “good time” credits, it denies the vast majority of incarcerated people the ability to earn these credits. Also, by incorporating a “risk and needs assessment” that is determined by the Attorney General and is not individualized, the FIRST STEP Act risks embedding deep racial and class bias into the risk assessment system, particularly impacting Black communities.
  • By denying any retro-activity, the FIRST STEP Act severely falls short of sentencing reform. By excluding those charged before its enactment, the FIRST STEP Act ignores the vast majority of people in federal prison, the decades of harm caused by their criminalization, and the irrevocable trauma caused to many Black families and communities.
  • The FIRST STEP Act abandons the displaced, the undocumented, and the refugee population by denying the majority of undocumented immigrants the right to “good time credit” benefits and access to rehabilitation programs.

Black Lives Matter Global Network demands Congress and the current Administration propose legislation truly intended to dramatically decrease mass incarceration centering the Black communities that continue to be disproportionately targeted by our criminal justice system.

We vow to continue supporting the fight to overhaul America’s criminal justice system until all Black, indigenous, and migrant people are no longer targeted and criminalized.   


About Black Lives Matter

Founded in 2013 by Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, Black Lives Matter Global Network is a chapter-based, member-led organization in the US, UK, and Canada, whose mission is to build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. We support the lives of the Black queer and transgender communities, the disabled, the undocumented, those with records, women, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives.