News Press Release


December 19, 2018

Urges lawmakers to continue to work in a bipartisan manner on genuine criminal justice reform

MEDIA CONTACT: Malik Russell/

BALTIMORE (DECEMBER 19, 2018) – The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) endorsed the Senate version of the First Step Act as an important and necessary move toward genuine criminal justice reform.  “The First Step Act offers some important improvements to the current federal criminal justice system, but it falls short of providing the meaningful change that is required to make the system genuinely fair,” said Mr. Derrick Johnson, the President and CEO of the NAACP, our nation’s oldest, largest, and most widely-recognized grassroots based civil rights organization.   “Much more work will be needed as we push for transformational change that will end mass incarceration and racial and ethnic minority disparities in prisons throughout America,” he continued.

“The NAACP, which was established in 1909, has long struggled for fairness and equality in our society, including in our criminal justice system,” said Hilary O. Shelton, the Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and the Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy.  “Ultimately, the First Step Actis not the end it is the beginning of a series of efforts to improve, reform, and bring fairness to the federal criminal justice system. Congress must do much to more fix our broken system and create one that is just and equitable, that significantly reduces the number of people unnecessarily who are sent to prison, which eliminates racial and ethnic minority disparities, and creates opportunities for real second chances.”

The NAACP was grateful for the inclusion of provisions such as the expansion of the “safety valve,” which will give judges more sentencing discretion in more cases, and the retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act.  These two provisions alone should impact more than 5,000 Americans.  We were also gratified to see the inclusion of the provisions reforming the two-strikes and three-strikes laws, as well as the elimination of the “stacking” provisions, which resulted in unreasonably long prison sentences for many.  The Senate version retained many of the best provisions included in the House version of the bill, including a prohibition on detaining youth in solitary confinement and a ban on shackling female inmates who are in labor.

The Senate-passed First Step Act did not seize the opportunity to make a number of crucial corrections to the criminal justice system, however, that we have long advocated are necessary.  Specifically, the bill continues to exclude too many people from earning time credits, including those convicted of immigration-related offenses.It does not retroactively apply its sentencing reform provisions to people convicted of anything other than crack convictions, continues to allow for-profit companies to benefit off of incarceration, fails to address parole for juveniles serving life sentences in federal prison, and expands electronic monitoring.

In short, the First Step Act lives up to it name:  it should be seen as a first step in the journey for equality and fairness in our criminal justice system.  The NAACP looks forward to continuing to work with the U.S. Congress and every American who wants to see more justice in our system.