Between the 1970s and early 2000s, thousands of people charged with drug offenses found themselves facing years in jail. Even for minor convictions, courts gave these people harsh sentences. Some faced life in prison for nonviolent crimes.

But a bill signed into law last year hopes to give relief to these inmates. The First Step Act has released and reduced multiple sentences that lawmakers now consider excessive. But for incarcerated people to take advantage of the bill, they must file for a reduction or release.

Releasing and reducing sentences

After lawmakers determined in the 2000s that courts were sentencing drug convictions too harshly, they passed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. This bill reduced the mandatory sentences for certain drug crimes, especially for first-time or nonviolent offenders.

But this law only affected people convicted after 2010. With the First Step Act, anyone sentenced before then can now retroactively ask for a reconsideration of the length of their prison term. The act also relaxes mandatory minimum sentences for some offenses.

Filing a request for release

As of November this year, the act has released roughly 3,000 from prison. And around 1,700 inmates have reduced sentences.

However, the bill does not automatically apply to everyone who may qualify. Inmates must file a request for compassionate release, explaining why the First Step Act applies to them. The Bureau of Prisons and the sentencing court then review the request to see if it meets the necessary requirements before approval.

The First Step Act can give you your life back

A long stretch in prison can take away a large chunk of your life. And serving a long sentence for a first-time or nonviolent conviction can be devastating and frustrating.

But with the passage of the First Step Act, you may be able to request a shorter sentence.