News Release

Senate Passes Left-Right Criminal Justice Reform

Deborah Barfield Berry of USA Today writes in “Senate passes sweeping criminal justice overhaul supported by groups on the left and right” that “the Senate voted 87 to 12 late Tuesday to approve the bipartisan ‘First Step Act.’ … The bill must now go over to the House for a vote. President Donald Trump has supported the measure.

“The measure aimed at reducing the number of people in the nation’s prisons would among other things, give judges more discretion in sentencing offenders for nonviolent crimes, particularly drug offenses, and bolster rehabilitation programs for former prisoners.

“The Senate defeated amendments proposed by Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and John Kennedy of Louisiana that would have required the Bureau of Prisons to notify victims before a prisoner is released and tracked former offenders after they’re released.”

MARC MAUER, mauer at sentencingproject.org, @SentencingProj
Mauer is executive director of the Sentencing Project and author of the just-released The Meaning of Life: The Case for Abolishing Life Sentences. He said today: “We’re most enthusiastic about the sentencing reforms included in the legislation, although the compromise bill removed the retroactive provision for several of them. …

“The expanded programming in the federal prison system is of course a good idea, but the bill’s provisions are too limited and not necessarily evidence-based. The bill calls for $75 million per year in programming, which is not a lot given that the system holds 180,000 prisoners. Also, programming participation and incentives are prioritized for ‘low-risk’ prisoners, whereas research shows that it’s more effective to target ‘high-risk’ individuals. That’s because the low-risk people are in fact low-risk, so less chance of them reoffending, whereas there’s greater opportunity to have an impact on the scale of reoffending with the ones more likely to do so in the absence of rehabilitative programming. …

“The exclusion of violent crimes is unwise for a number of reasons, but in practice relatively few (less than 10 percent) of federal offenders are locked up for those, with the vast majority prosecuted as a state crime.”

See the recent piece “Criminal justice reform doesn’t end system’s racial bias” by Leah Sakala of the Urban Institute and Nicole D. Porter of the The Sentencing Project.