Criminal-Justice Reform Bill Brought Back From Brink

WASHINGTON (CN) – As the clock winds down on the promise by Republican leadership to vote on a criminal-justice reform bill, a bipartisan group of lawmakers released a new version Wednesday of the momentum-gaining legislation.

The push to pass the effort once seemed dead, with a hesitant leadership and unclear support from the White House. But Trump threw his support behind the bill in October, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday the bill will get a vote on the Senate floor before the new Congress.

The measure the group of lawmakers unveiled on Wednesday includes tweaks to a bill released in November by Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who has been pushing reform efforts for years as the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Over the last several years, we’ve expanded support for comprehensive criminal justice reform by listening to stakeholders and lawmakers to strike a balance that reduces crime and recidivism, and the associated taxpayer burden, while ensuring that dangerous and career criminals face steep consequences for their actions,” Grassley said in a statement. “Today’s update represents the latest in our effort to achieve this goal.”

A pared-down version of earlier reform efforts, the bill cuts back on some mandatory-minimum sentence requirements and expands the cases in which judges can sentence below the minimum if a defendant meets certain conditions. The bill also makes retroactive a 2010 law that reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powdered cocaine.

Another main goal of the bill is to make sure people who leave prison do not return, giving certain inmates a chance to earn early release by completing recidivism-reduction programs.

The changes announced Wednesday primarily focus on these time credits, barring people convicted of gun and fentanyl trafficking, domestic abuse, and a list of other crimes from redeeming the credits to receive early release.

The changes also reauthorize a prior law that allowed for grants for drug treatment, training and mentoring programs. 

The bill now includes 34 co-sponsors in the Senate, with both Republicans and Democrats signing onto the legislation.

“The bipartisan First Step Act is a once in a political lifetime aligning of the stars,” Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in a statement Wednesday. “Republicans, Democrats, President Trump, Fraternal Order of Police and ACLU have all thrown their support behind our bill. This bipartisan compromise could be one of the most important things we do when it comes to criminal justice not only this year, but for a long time.”

The House passed a similar piece of legislation in May, though that bill did not include the sentencing tweaks that the current Senate package does.

%d bloggers like this: