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House Passes Prison Reform, But Senate May Not Ever See It

House Passes Prison Reform, But Senate May Not Ever See It

Republican Senators are split between the House bill and Chuck Grassley’s broader bill

The House passed the FIRST Step Act 360-59 on Tuesday that brings reforms to the federal prison system, but the Senate may not ever see it as both sides of the aisle have problems with it.

Reason detailed a few changes within the bill:

  • allow inmates to accrue up to 54 days of good time credit a year. The changes would apply retroactively, resulting in the release of approximately 4,000 federal inmates, according to the U.S. Justice Action Network, a criminal justice advocacy group.
  • ban the shackling of pregnant inmates, including while giving birth and postpartum. It would also require Bureau of Prison facilities to provide female hygiene products free of charge and increase available phone and in-person visitations for new mothers.
  • require the Bureau of Prisons to place inmates in facilities within 500 driving miles of their families.
  • increase the use of compassionate release for terminally ill inmates, and require new reporting on how many applications for compassionate release are accepted or denied.

It also provides money “for new programs aimed at decreasing repeat offenses.”

Despite the overwhelming support in the House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the bill is dead on arrival due to the differences in the chamber:

Democrats are split on it, old-school conservatives are drumming up opposition from law enforcement groups, and progressive advocacy groups are attacking it from the left. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Republican pointman on criminal justice reform, says the bill is dead in the water unless it includes major reforms to federal sentencing law as well.

Trying to keep the whole thing from falling apart are a bipartisan group of House members, the White House—where prison reform has been a priority for President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner—and criminal justice groups who say some progress is better than none.

Democrat Senators Dick Durbin, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, John Lewis, and Sheila Jackson-Lee insist “that the reforms would fail without broader sentencing reforms.” They have concerns about the overcrowded and underfunded Bureau of Prison system.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, caused a major problem when he opposed the bill and decided to hold “out for a more sweeping bill this time around rather than the narrower approach that the House and some GOP senators are taking” like the one he introduced in 2016 that never went to the floor.

Grassley aligned himself with Durbin “on a public push for their broader legislation.” Grassley stated that if the House’s prison bill went to the floor, the two men “have enough senators on their side to block the measure – a potentially embarrassing scenario that Republican leaders want to avoid.”

His decision is one reason McConnell may not bring the bill to the floor because he “is not interested in circumventing” the chairman and possibly provoking “an internecine fight that would eat up weeks of floor time.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) declared that he opposes the bill as it is because he believes “[I]t’s a mistake for sentencing reform to include violent offenders of those who commit gun crimes.”

Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) supports portions of the bill:

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) said he was supportive of “parts” of the House bill, but was notably more bullish on that than Grassley’s broader approach and said he and Sessions “may differ on this,” a rare break between the two.

“As long as they are talking about drug rehabilitation, recidivism and job training, I’m all in. Where they were going before is sentencing some of the sentencing guidelines,” Perdue said. “I felt like going that way was the wrong to go.”

Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), along with Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) think that “it’s futile to move a broader bill through Congress that Trump has already said he won’t sign.” Plus, it doesn’t help that Attorney General Jeff Session does not approve of the broader bill.

Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner have long advocated for prison reform. It became an issue close to Kushner’s heart “after witnessing how his father, Charles Kushner, was treated in prison.”

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Comments

Preping for the day when a bunch of them get to spend some time in prison?

stevewhitemd | May 23, 2018 at 1:48 pm

In all seriousness, reforming federal prison rules for non-violent offenders, particularly small-time drug use, is a good idea. Treatment pregnant women decently is fine. Dealing with the marijuana issue is appropriate. And it’s clear that the proposed reforms don’t apply to violent offenders.

Prisons are a resource. They’re expensive as all get out to build and operate. Filling them with non-violent offenders means that we have less room (and attention) for the nasty, violent people who have proven that they can’t live with the rest of us.

Ronald Reagan used to make deals on things like this: he recognized that half a loaf was better than none, so he’d take the half — and come back later to work on the other half. That’s what the Pubs should do here. Get some agreement amongst themselves, get a bill done, and accomplish what is possible.

    healthguyfsu in reply to stevewhitemd. | May 23, 2018 at 2:23 pm

    And/or legalize an industry that will boost the economy and bring no more and likely less addictive behaviors as legal substances like tobacco and alcohol.

    JusticeDelivered in reply to stevewhitemd. | May 23, 2018 at 3:02 pm

    How about streamlining violent offenders? more liberal use of capital punishment? Fast tracked appeals process where they only have five years for appeals, and then their plug is pulled?

    Wouldn’t we have a better outcome investing scarce resources into younger less hardened criminals than housing, feeding and guarding those who commit violent crimes?

    We have people who are against capital punishment who game the appeals process to make it expensive to execute them, and then argue we should allow those who deserve to die to live because of the high costs opponents force on us.

    A better solution is to make capital punishment less expensive, stopping pouring resources into the really bad people.

    “In all seriousness…”

    Anchovy was being serious.

Out of curiosity, does it include reparations to their victims?

Senator Cruz, what’s a “gun crime”?

Henry Hawkins | May 23, 2018 at 4:32 pm

‘Non-violent’ refers to the offense the inmate was convicted on, though an inmate’s previous record may be considered. However, a fair number of ‘non-violent’ offenders are very violent – they just haven’t been caught and convicted yet on those violent offenses.

Also, just because an inmate’s crime was non-violent, say… check fraud, credit card fraud, and burglary from a vehicle… I don’t want that thieving sumbitch coming out early for it. For the serial offender it becomes a business decision – is it worth stealing $20,000 if I’ll only do 3 months’ time and not have to make reparations? Yes, I believe it is! Note that every offender believes he’s gonna get away with it when he pulls one.

If your overall goal is to reduce recidivism, minimizing penalties to a level acceptable to the criminal isn’t going to help. Certainty of punishment works with kids and pets, and it will work with a good number of inmates, excepting the truly sociopathic offender, for whom nothing works.

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