Justice Department selects nonprofit think tank for First Step Act review committee

April 8, 2019

The Justice Department announced Monday the selection of the Hudson Institute, a nonprofit think tank, to host the First Step Act’s Independent Review Committee.

Signed into law last year, the First Step Act reversed decades of long mandatory sentencing and other penalties that were linked to the disparate treatment of minorities in the justice system. The bill received overwhelming bipartisan support and was hailed as a legislative win for President Trump.

Under the First Step Act, reducing the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine has resulted in 826 sentence reductions and 643 early releases, the Justice Department said.

Three months later, the Justice Department said it is working toward implementing The First Step Act’s goals.

One of those goals was the creation of an Independent Review Committee. The commission is supposed to assist Attorney General William P. Barr and the Bureau of Prisons in the design and implementation of risk and needs assessment tools. Those tools will be used to determine the risk of recidivism as well as establish rewards for recidivism reduction programs.

In a statement, Mr. Barr said the commission will play an “important role” in efforts to develop these tools.

“I am grateful to the Hudson Institute for hosting this important committee, which will lead to better policies at the department and ultimately better outcomes for prisoners reentering society,” he said.

John Walters, Hudson’s chief operating officer and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy for President George W. Bush, will serve on the committee.

“Reducing recidivism is a serious issue for the federal justice system, and I look forward to working with my fellow committee members and the Justice Department to develop the tools necessary to achieve better outcomes for incarcerated individuals and our country,” Mr. Walters said in a statement.

Other members include George J. Terwilliger, former deputy attorney general and acting attorney general; Paul Butterfield, former senior deputy assistant director for the Bureau of Prisons Reentry Services Division; and Pennsylvania Secretary of Corrections John E. Wetzel.

The committee was supposed to be established within 30 days of the law’s enactment. A Justice Department official attributed the holdup to having to obtain funding for an outside contractor.