Criminal Justice Reform Bill Passed by U.S. Senate

IndraStra Global

Criminal Justice Reform Bill Passed by U.S. Senate

By IndraStra Global News Team

Image Attribute: United States Capitol Building in Washington, DC. which houses U.S. Senate (The Upper House)  / Source: David Maiolo, Creative Commons

Image Attribute: United States Capitol Building in Washington, DC. which houses U.S. Senate (The Upper House)  / Source: David Maiolo, Creative Commons

On December 18, 2018, U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed The Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act or FIRST STEP Act to reform the federal prison system by a vote of 87-12. The House of Representatives is scheduled to have a conciliatory vote on it before the end of the year. 

This bill was introduced on September 26, 2017 by Sen. Doug Collins (R-GA), and was referred to Committee on the Judiciary, which ordered the bill reported (H.R. 5682) by a vote of 25-5 on May 9, 2018. Before passing the bill, the Senate defeated amendments by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) that would have further tightened requirements. According to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the bill already "carves out some 60 different crimes that make prisoners ineligible for early release to a halfway house or home confinement". He said Cotton’s amendment was too expansive and would prevent at least 30,000 prisoners from participation.

The new legislation increases the number of "good conduct time credits" prisoners receive from 47 per year to 54 which would ease the way for some prisoners to win early release to halfway houses or home confinement. It also provides for earned title credits:

A prisoner, except for an ineligible prisoner under subparagraph (D), who successfully completes evidence-based recidivism reduction programming or productive activities, shall earn time credits as follows:

“(i) A prisoner shall earn 10 days of time credits for every 30 days of successful participation in evidence-based recidivism reduction programming or productive activities. 

“(ii) A prisoner determined by the Bureau of Prisons to be at a minimum or low risk for recidivating, who, over two consecutive assessments, has not increased their risk of recidivism, shall earn an additional 5 days of time credits for every 30 days of successful participation in evidence-based recidivism reduction programming or productive activities.

Besides that, the attempts to focus the toughest sentences on the most violent offenders by lowering mandatory minimum sentences for prior drug felonies, including reducing the life sentence for some drug offenders with three convictions, or "three strikes," to 25 years. This provision gives judges more discretion when sentencing nonviolent drug offenders.

However, the law enforcement groups across the U.S are divided. The current structure of the bill was backed by the Fraternal Order of PoliceInternational Association of Chiefs of Police and AFGE's Council of Prison Local but opposed by the National Sheriff’s Association.

With reporting by Reuters, U.S. Congress, and The White House