The Senate tonight passed once-in-a-generation reforms to America’s prison and sentencing system to reduce recidivism, save tax dollars and promote safe communities. The bipartisan First Step Act uses evidence-based recidivism reduction programs to help inmates successfully return to society after serving their sentence. It also reduces some sentences for certain low-level, nonviolent offenders while preserving important law enforcement tools to tackle criminal enterprises. The bill was approved by a vote of 87-12.
“It’s been several decades since Congress made significant reforms to our nation’s criminal justice and prison policies. The First Step Act takes lessons from history and from states – our laboratories of democracy – to reduce crime, save taxpayer dollars and strengthen faith and fairness in our criminal justice system. Today’s vote is an important victory in our years-long effort, which has resulted in a broad bipartisan recognition of the need for reforms. This bill is the product of careful deliberation and input from a wide range of stakeholders and law enforcement organizations. I’m grateful for the engagement from those who joined us to pass the bill and for President Trump’s leadership. I look forward to the swift passage of the First Step Act by the House,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley.
The First Step Act combines prison reform proposals that overwhelmingly passed in the House of Representatives earlier this year with sentencing reform provisions from the broadly bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in February.
The comprehensive package aims to reduce crime by helping low-risk inmates prepare to successfully rejoin society through participation in proven recidivism reduction programs. It also improves fairness in prison sentences by recalibrating certain mandatory minimum sentences while expanding their application to new categories of violent felons. The bill grants greater discretion to judges in sentencing of low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who cooperate with law enforcement. It also clarifies congressional intent on sentencing enhancements for certain crimes involving firearms. The First Step Act preserves the maximum potential sentences for violent and career criminals. Finally, the legislation also allows petitions for retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act to be considered on an individual basis to reduce sentence disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses. Under this legislation, any savings generated by the reforms are automatically reinvested into law enforcement programs to further reduce crime and improve community safety.
The First Step Act includes safeguards that prevent career and violent criminals from receiving earned time credits toward pre-release custody following completion of recidivism reduction programs. Under the bill, each inmate is evaluated using a data-driven risk and needs assessment tool to determine their likelihood of reoffending upon release. Only inmates found to be a low or minimum risk may benefit from earned time credits. Conviction for a number of serious offenses also disqualify inmates from earning time credits.
The First Step Act is modeled after state-based reforms that have proven to reduce crime, prison populations and taxpayer expenses. It is endorsed by President Trump and cosponsored by more than a third of the Senate, evenly balanced among Democrats and Republicans.
The First Step Act is backed by a number of law enforcement groups, including the nation’s largest police group. It’s also supported by 172 former federal prosecutors including two former Republican U.S. attorneys general, two former deputy attorneys general and a former director of the FBI along with sheriffs from 34 states across the country. The National Governor’s Association, which represents the governors of all 50 states, praised the bill. A broad coalition of conservative and progressive groups along with a host of business leaders and faith-based organizations also support the First Step Act.