Under the First Step Act of 2018, federal prisoners may now petition courts directly for reduction of their sentences, and judges may grant such requests if “extraordinary and compelling reasons” support reduction. Judges are also in the process of imposing reduced sentences in thousands of cases where the First Step Act has retroactively reduced statutory penalties. Not only does the First Step Act offer prisoners new opportunities for sentence reduction, but the law also may change how federal judges understand the impact of their sentencing decisions. Before now, in federal cases, judges rarely had the chance to take a second look at the prison sentences they (or their colleagues) imposed. Encounters between judges and the people they sentenced typically occurred only if a person violated the terms of supervised release after leaving prison. Now, judges can reassess sentence length while someone is still in prison and evaluate whether a reduction in the sentence is warranted. This newfound power allows judges to see their sentencing decisions in a new light and may influence how they conceive of the prison time they impose in future cases.

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