Senate overwhelmingly backs sweeping criminal justice reform bill


"Congratulations to the Senate on the bi-partisan passing of a historic Criminal Justice Reform Bill".

After the Senate passed sweeping, bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation, President Trump said he "looks forward" to signing the bill into law. The act would give elderly and terminally ill inmates a path home and invest tens of millions in re-entry programming. Drug offenders with three convictions - or "three strikes" - could face 25 years in prison instead of life. The "stacking" regulations that make it illegal to posses a firearm while committing a crime, even if the firearm is not used, would also no longer come into play. It would also reduce the sentences of some drug offenders now serving time.

Cotton, a staunch supporter of mandatory minimum sentences, and Kennedy introduced three amendments to the bill that they said would strengthen the legislation, but which fellow Republicans, Democrats, and advocacy groups said were "poison pills".

It also incentivizes prisoners to participate in programs created to reduce the risk of recidivism, with the reward being an earlier release to either home confinement or a halfway house to complete the sentence.

The Washington Post calls this a "rare bipartisan victory" for Donald Trump, and it might be the only significant cross-aisle win of the last two years.

-Encourages prisoners to participate in programs created to reduce the risk of recidivism, with the reward being an earlier release to a halfway house or home confinement to finish out their sentence.

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"The bill makes smart changes to our criminal justice system in ways that will make it fairer, more humane, and more just", Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of NY said.

The bill affects only federal prisoners, who make up less than 10 percent of the country's prison population. The legislation has been supported by liberal and progressive groups, such as the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The Senate voted 82-12 Monday evening to advance the bill, which gives judges more discretion when sentencing some drug offenders and boosts prisoner rehabilitation efforts.

Ames Grawert, senior counsel in the Brennan Center's Justice Program, said in a statement that Cotton and Kennedy's amendments were "meant to sabotage the bipartisan compromise FIRST STEP represents". One would have imposed stiffer penalties for cop-killers, another would have imposed harsher sentences for stalking or cyberstalking children, and another would have ensured "that crime victims and groups that support them receive a steady stream of funds from the Crime Victims Fund each year". One would exclude more prisoners from participating in educational and training programs that allows them to earn credits.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in urging senators to reject an amendment sponsored by Cotton, said "this law is centered towards those people that are the least violent people that are in prison already", and that "we're only going to help low-level offenders". "Lawmakers need to pass spending bills by midnight Friday to avoid a partial shutdown", writes CNBC.