Date of Award

Spring 2020

Degree Type

Capstone - Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Education (MEd)



First Advisor

Audrey Falk

Second Advisor

Sean McCarthy


Throughout history, the United States has toggled between punitive and rehabilitative policies within the criminal justice system, creating social changes that have contributed to racial inequalities within policy and practice that are still being dealt with today. The First Step Act of 2018 (Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed, Safely Transitioning Every Person Act) is a federal prison reform attempting to implement rehabilitative social change within a society that is still not ready for it. The act is hoping to assist offenders with re-entry by reducing recidivism with a new risk and needs assessment, decreasing mandatory minimum sentences by allocating good time, and incarcerating individuals within 500 miles of their communities. However, this act only applies to certain federal inmates, does not change overall sentencing practices that have led to mass incarceration, and does not account for damaged social capital related to relationships or how society stigmatizes individuals with a criminal record. Ultimately, policymakers within the criminal justice system should consider how perceptions and inequalities related to criminal records will need to change in order for formerly incarcerated individuals to benefit from the First Step Act.

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