Bipartisan criminal justice bill passes U.S. Senate

Prision Cells at Old Idaho Penitentiary in Boise, Idaho

In a major step for smart criminal justice reform, the U.S. Senate passed the First Step Act Tuesday with a bipartisan vote of 87-12.

The First Step legislation lowers mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses and provides more funding for anti-recidivism programs meant to help federal prisoners re-enter society, among other provisions.

The legislation has had strong bipartisan support in Congress and President Donald Trump publicly announced his support for the reforms last month.

The First Step Act builds on prison reforms passed overwhelmingly by the U.S. House earlier in the year and adds new programs to help better prepare inmates to re-enter society. The legislation’s effect would be limited to only federal prisons and offenses.

In a letter of support to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Chamber Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Ashli Watts noted the Chamber’s advocacy work on criminal justice issues and stated society and business benefit from a smart criminal justice system that improves public safety, strengthens families and communities, reduces recidivism, supports victims, and protects taxpayers, which she said can be achieved through prison reforms.

“Statistics show that 95% of those incarcerated will one day leave prison, and our goal should be to have them re-enter society, have gainful employment and be productive citizens.  The First Step Act will help achieve these goals, while also reducing the burden on taxpayers tied to the ever-growing cost of the corrections system,” Watts wrote.

The First Step Act now moves to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration.

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Jacqueline Pitts
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