WASHINGTON D.C. — U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine cast their votes on Tuesday in support of bipartisan legislation that would reform the federal criminal justice system.
The First Step Act, which passes the Senate on Tuesday, is a bipartisan bill to lower the recidivism rate and reduce sentences for certain nonviolent offenders. The Act has support from a broad range of Democrats and Republicans. President Trump has even endorsed the legislation.
The Act has also has support from a number of law enforcement groups, including the Fraternal Order of Police (the nation’s largest police group), as well as the National District Attorneys Association, the American Bar Association, and the National Governors Association.
“While this measure is not a cure-all for the problems that plague our criminal justice system, this is an overdue step to improve a system that still imprisons too many people – particularly people of color – for committing nonviolent crimes. Instead, this bill will allow law enforcement to redirect taxpayer resources toward catching and punishing dangerous and violent criminals,” said Sen. Warner in a press release.
The House of Representatives received the Act on May 7, 2018. On the May 22, the Act passes the House and it moved to the Senate on May 23, 2018.
Some changes were made to the Act while in the Senate, so it returns to the House of Representatives before going to President Trump's desk.
Several changes to the Act include:
- Under the bill, offenders who are deemed to be at low risk to commit more crimes will be given incentives to reduce their sentences and access to evidence-based programs (like drug treatment) to better prepare them to return to their neighborhoods and become productive members of the community.
- The bill also contains a number of sentencing reforms: for instance, it gives federal judges more discretion in sentencing low-level non-violent offenders who cooperate with the government, so that the sentence truly fits the crime. It also reduces some mandatory minimums, and makes sure that only repeat offenders are subjected to the harshest forms of sentencing, as Congress intended.
- And for a long time, the law disproportionately targeted African Americans by punishing possession of crack cocaine at a much higher level than powder cocaine. Under this bill, those who are serving sentences under those old, outdated federal laws can petition for sentence reductions – if they have a record of good behavior, and meet other qualifications.
Senator Tim Kaine released the following statement about the Senate passing the First Step Act:
Racial disparities and mandatory minimums have left countless Americans in prison for nonviolent offenses. Passage of this compromise bill is a much-needed first step to fix the sentencing and incarceration policies that have disproportionately hurt communities of color. We should build on this success by pursuing anti-profiling and civil rights reforms to make additional improvements to our criminal justice system.
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