The First Step Act: Criminal Justice Reform Passed by Congress

cduggles

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Key Republican senator pushing McConnell for vote on criminal justice bill

(CNN)With Congress eying to exit Washington in a few weeks, Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the influential Judiciary committee, dismissed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's claim that a major criminal justice reform bill doesn't have the support of the majority of Republicans in the Senate.

At an event Tuesday moderated by The Washington Post, the Iowa Republican said that the bill could pass in three or four days, and would lose Republican support if it gets punted to 2019, when Democrats take control of the House.

"If McConnell will bring this up, it will pass overwhelmingly," Grassley said.

Grassley helped write the legislation, known as the First Step Act, which would allow thousands of current and future federal inmates get out earlier, and rehabilitate back into society through halfway houses, home confinement or other supervision, by reducing drug-related mandatory sentences and making more offenders eligible for early release through earning credits awarded by completing certain activities and programs.

McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, has not said publicly whether he supports or opposes the bill. When asked by CNN Tuesday whether he would put the bill on the floor this year, McConnell said "we're still talking."

But McConnell said Monday in a Wall Street Journal interview that the First Step Act is "extremely divisive" among his fellow Republican senators, even though it "does have a lot of support from both" parties. After this week's services celebrating the life of the late President George H.W. Bush, McConnell noted that Congress has only two weeks before it leaves for the Christmas holiday, making it "very hard to figure out how to shoehorn" the bill through Congress.

"I'm pretty confident given the broad support it has that it would pass next year," McConnell added.

With the support of President Donald Trump, the First Step Act is expected to easily pass the Republican-controlled House should McConnell decide to put it up for a vote and send it to the other chamber. McConnell, however, is loathe to pass bills that split his party, and he claimed Monday that "there are more members in my conference who are either against it or undecided than are for it."

Grassley disputed McConnell's math as well, tweeting Tuesday that more than half of the 51 Republican senators support the bill.

"Ldr McConnell said he would need to have 60+ votes to bring criminal justice reform up & wanted to show large amount of Republican support," Grassley tweeted. "We have delivered. More than 1/2 of the Republican caucus supports the First Step Act LET'S VOTE!"

The First Step Act would also retroactively apply the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the disparity between powder and crack cocaine-related offenses, affecting the sentences of around 2,600 prisoners.

At The Washington Post event, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, noted that he and former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions ?a conservative and Trump's former attorney general ? struck that bipartisan compromise in 2010. Durbin said he was open to negotiating other provisions in the First Step Act to bring along Senate Republicans wary of the bill.

"The deal will be closed when one senator steps up and says it's time ? and that's Sen. Mitch McConnell," Durbin said.
McConnell vs Kushner et al.

I'm betting on McConnell; he knows procedural strategies to keep this bill on ice until next year. Or forever.

It would be a nice, mostly bipartisan bill to pass though. There must be some serious resistance either in the Republican caucus or the donor hive. Hmmm...

Let's see if defying Trump is as becoming as popular as I think it is.
 

invegauser

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am i reading this right?

would allow thousands of current and future federal inmates get out earlier, and rehabilitate back into society through halfway houses, home confinement or other supervision, by reducing drug-related mandatory sentences and making more offenders eligible for early release through earning credits awarded by completing certain activities and programs.
first link.

also first link
The First Step Act would also retroactively apply the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the disparity between powder and crack cocaine-related offenses, affecting the sentences of around 2,600 prisoners.
seems like they're trying to make room in the prison system, also seems like reparations of sorts. idk, sounds fishy, especially with trump supporting it.

that last quote seems like hair splitting. not much of a difference if you ask me, just weight.

first they legalize marijuana in las vegas, now they're kicking drug users out of jail. interesting. (in las vegas it use to be more fines and time served to get caught with 1 gram of marijuana than it was 2 grams of cocaine.)

i like this, qft imo.
“Inaction is a lot easier than action around here.”
 

cduggles

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^ First Step is aimed at criminal justice reforms for non-violent offenders, and has specific provisions for drug users.

Texas has been doing a lot around penal system reform and saved many pesos :p while doing it, so that data is being looked at closely.

But what about the private prison lobby, cduggles? I'm pleased you asked. They are positioning themselves to do the rehabilitation for prisoners. Halfway houses.

The FIRST STEP Act, if approved, will almost certainly create new business opportunities. The legislation encourages contracting with for-profit companies for post-prison services.

It's unclear whether GEO or CoreCivic would be in line to provide those services. GEO's federal contracts are currently limited to immigration services; the company mostly does business with states. But if Trump signs federal criminal justice reform, it could give Republican-run states like Florida cover to follow suit. This week, former Florida Senate President Joe Negron announced his new job as general counsel for Geo Group.

GEO has certainly positioned itself for more business to its rehabilitation arm, GEO Care. The company added 3,800 re-entry beds for people leaving prison by purchasing Community Education Centers.

But it also added a company with its own problems. Community Education Centers was part of a network of halfway houses in New Jersey investigated by Gov. Chris Christie's administration for squalid conditions, gang activity and high drug use.

Paez, the GEO spokesman, said the company is committed to "reducing recidivism rates across the country by providing the resources and skills needed for an individual's successful reentry into society."

"This legislation is focused on rehabilitation and recidivism reduction, which directly aligns with the goals of our" company," he said.
Source: https://www.tampabay.com/florida-politics/buzz/2018/12/07/why-is-a-florida-for-profit-prison-company-backing-bipartisan-criminal-justice-reform/

Jared Kushner has been a major force behind getting this passed (his dad was in prison, in part for hiring a hooker and filming her with his brother-in-law to prevent him from testifying. Ewwww.)

Go Jared! I'm actually impressed at the amount of Republican support this has generated.

The senators, like Mitch McConnell, who are running in 2020 don't want to be perceived as soft on crime.

I'll believe it when I see it passed and not watered down.

Mitch McConnell says the Senate will vote on criminal justice reform this month, handing victory to Trump

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the Senate will vote on a major criminal justice reform bill in December, paving the way for an easing of America's federal sentencing laws and handing a victory to President Donald Trump, who
endorsed
the legislation last month.

The Kentucky Republican announced on the floor of the Senate that his decision was made at Trump's request and followed unspecified changes to the bill.

Tensions about the legislation had escalated in recent days. Trump on Friday publicly called on McConnell to bring the bill to a vote. McConnell has been reluctant to do so, citing other pressing legislative matters and cautioning that there may not be enough votes.

Republicans have been sharply divided over the legislation, which would reduce the three-strike mandatory life sentence to 25 years for drug offenses, and give judges the power to bypass the minimum sentences altogether for certain offenders.

But it has earned support from a broad coalition of lawmakers and activists, including from within the White House, where Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner is a key proponent.

GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky have also emerged as vocal proponents of the overhaul. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who has claimed the United States has an "under-incarceration problem," has led opposition to the effort.

The United States Sentencing Commission estimates that roughly 2,250 inmates per year could have their sentences reduced under the reforms included in the bill, called the First Step Act. One major reform would eliminate "charge stacking," which extends sentences for possessing a gun while committing another crime, for first-time offenders.

Graham said Tuesday that passing the bill would be "a hell of a way to end 2018."

"If it happens, it will be because of Jared Kushner and his team and the president getting behind it and our Democratic friends I hope have been very reasonable," Graham told reporters. "I know there's a lot of anxiety about working with Trump, but this is a case where I think it's gonna be a win-win."

The looming end of the year contributed to a frenzy to deliver a vote before a new Congress is seated. McConnell said that lawmakers should expect to work on the legislation over the holidays. Reaching a major criminal justice reform compromise could be much more difficult starting next month, as a progressive slate of Democrats elected in November takes office.

The House easily passed a version of the First Step Act in May, though it was criticized by some liberals who said it did not go far enough.

McConnell said the Senate would have to work efficiently to get the bill through in time.

"Unless we approach all this work in a highly collaborative, productive way and take real advantage of unanimous consent to expedite proceedings, it is virtually certain that the Senate will need to be in session between Christmas and New Year's in order to complete this work," McConnell said Tuesday.

Largely behind the scenes, Republicans have been proposing changes in recent weeks that could reduce the impact of the bill but generate more support from their caucus. Those changes include a broadening of the categories of offenders who would not be eligible for sentence reduction.

On Friday, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, announced his support for the bill after gaining White House approval of an amendment that he said would exclude violent offenders from early release.

"I'm happy to report that, after working closely with the White House and the sponsors of this bill, they have decided to accept my amendment," he said in a statement. "This new version of the bill resolves my concerns, and is one that I wholeheartedly support and cosponsor."

It's not clear how many Republicans will support the legislation. Sources told The Hill that the official Senate whip count stands at 16 Republicans in favor as of Sunday, though alternative counts put the number at as high as 30 of the 51 GOP members of the Senate.

Lawmakers are expected to continue to hammer out the details of the legislation in the approach to the New Year. McConnell advised the chamber Tuesday to "prepare for a very, very long month."
 

aihfl

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I was skeptical it was going to happen, but it's a Christmas miracle:

WASHINGTON — The Senate overwhelmingly approved on Tuesday the most substantial changes in a generation to the tough-on-crime prison and sentencing laws that ballooned the federal prison population and created a criminal justice system that many conservatives and liberals view as costly and unfair. The First Step Act would expand job training and other programming aimed at reducing recidivism rates among federal prisoners. It also expands early-release programs and modifies sentencing laws, including mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, to more equitably punish drug offenders. But the legislation falls short of benchmarks set by a more expansive overhaul proposed in Congress during Barack Obama’s presidency and of the kinds of changes sought by some liberal and conservative activists targeting mass incarceration. House leaders have pledged to pass the measure this week, and President Trump, whose support resuscitated a yearslong overhaul effort last month, said he would sign the bill.

Even as both sides acknowledged concessions, Tuesday’s vote was an important first step for the unlikely coalition of liberals and conservatives — including the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Conservative Union, Koch brothers and the liberal Center for American Progress — who locked arms in recent years and pushed lawmakers to reconsider the way the federal government administers justice three decades after the war on crime peaked. In one of this Congress’s final acts, every Democrat and all but 12 Republicans voted in favor of the legislation — an outcome that looked highly unlikely this month amid skepticism from Republican leaders.

For Republicans preparing to relinquish total control of Washington next month, the bill’s passage offered one final victory on their own terms and handed Mr. Trump a bipartisan policy achievement that he can tout as he seeks re-election. Liberals saw reason to celebrate, as well, even as they called for more aggressive changes: In gaining the support of Mr. Trump and so many Senate Republicans, they believe they have shifted the terms of policy debates around criminal justice in a way that could set the stage for additional changes on the federal level and in the states.
“This bill in its entirety has been endorsed by the political spectrum of America,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, who has led the push for changes along with two Republicans, Senators Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Mike Lee of Utah. “I can’t remember any bill that has this kind of support, left and right, liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican.” Mr. Trump quickly touted the vote on Twitter, saying that the changes would “keep our communities safer, and provide hope and a second chance, to those who earn it.”

Proponents of the bill overcame an aggressive campaign by some conservatives who tried to resurrect the once-resonant charge that reducing sentences would make the United States less safe. Two Republicans, Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and John Kennedy of Louisiana, introduced amendments to limit which types of offenders would be eligible for early-release programs or to water down other changes. All were narrowly voted down on the Senate floor.

Many of the changes adopted by the Senate and embraced by Mr. Trump are modeled after successful initiatives at the state level intended to reduce the costs and improve the outcomes of the criminal justice system. Congress’s action would not directly affect state prisons, where the majority of the country’s offenders are incarcerated, but proponents believe they could spur more states to change their laws.

Once signed into law, thousands of inmates will be eligible for immediate sentencing reductions and expanded early-release programs. Going forward, the effect will grow as thousands of new offenders receive reduced sentences and enter a changed prison system. “We’re not just talking about money. We’re talking about human potential,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, said Tuesday during debate on the Senate floor. “We’re investing in the men and women who want to turn their lives around once they’re released from prison, and we’re investing in so doing in stronger and more viable communities.”

Broadly speaking, the First Step Act makes heavy investments in a package of incentives and new programs intended to improve prison conditions and better prepare low-risk prisoners for re-entry into their communities.
By participating in the programs, eligible prisoners can earn time credits to reduce their sentence or enter “prerelease custody,” such as home confinement. In recent weeks, conservative senators and law enforcement groups successfully pushed to limit some violent offenders from eligibility, including fentanyl traffickers. The legislation would also prohibit the shackling of pregnant inmates and the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in almost all cases. The Bureau of Prisons would be required to place prisoners in facilities close to their homes, if possible.

In all, it includes four changes to federal sentencing laws. One would shorten mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent drug offenses, including lowering the mandatory “three strikes” penalty from life in prison to 25 years. Another would provide judges greater liberty to use so-called safety valves to go around mandatory minimums in some cases. The bill would also clarify that the so-called stacking mechanism making it a federal crime to possess a firearm while committing another crime, like a drug offense, should apply only to individuals who have previously been convicted. Finally, the bill would allow offenders sentenced before a 2010 reduction in the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine to petition for their cases to be re-evaluated. The provision could alter the sentences of several thousand drug offenders serving lengthy sentences for crack-cocaine offenses. That would help many African-American offenders who were disproportionately punished for crack dealing while white drug dealers got off easier for selling powder cocaine.

For the bill’s supporters, Tuesday’s vote was the culmination of a five-year campaign on Capitol Hill that only months ago appeared to be out of reach while Mr. Trump was in office. Much of the same coalition that pushed the First Step Act had rallied around similar legislation, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. With Mr. Obama’s support, as well as that of Mr. Grassley and Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, the more expansive bill had appeared destined for passage before Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and majority leader, stepped in and refused to give it a vote in the run-up to the 2016 election. Mr. McConnell seemed intent on denying proponents another shot this year, but they secured a powerful ally early on in Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Over the course of the past year, Mr. Kushner worked with Mr. Grassley, Mr. Durbin and Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, to draft a compromise that the president could back. With Mr. Trump’s endorsement, the group brought a strong majority of Senate Republicans on board. By last week, under intense pressure from his own party and the White House, Mr. McConnell relented. And on Tuesday, facing his own re-election fight in 2020, he somewhat unexpectedly cast his own vote in favor of the bill.

“This is the biggest thing,” a jubilant Mr. Grassley said after the vote, showing off a vote card to reporters. “Except maybe getting a Supreme Court justice.” He embraced another Democrat central to its passage, Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey and one of only three African-American senators.
“This is a very moving night for me,” Mr. Booker said. “This is literally one of the reasons I came to the United States Senate, to get something like this done.”

For Democrats and Republicans who favored greater changes, Mr. Trump’s endorsement came at a cost: They had to scale back their proposed sentencing changes. The 2015 bill made all sentencing reductions retroactive to include those currently in prison, but the bill passed on Tuesday limits most of those changes to future offenders. But by winning the support of a tough-talking, anticrime president who enjoys deep loyalty among Republican voters, the groups believe they have shifted the debate in a way that could set the stage for additional changes and elevate the criminal justice debate before the 2020 Democratic primaries.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/18/us/politics/senate-criminal-justice-bill.html?action=click&module=Top Stories&pgtype=Homepage

 
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