One of the top Republicans in the U.S. Senate proposed a revised prison reform bill that would remove low-risk inmates from the prison population and reduce taxpayer costs for housing inmates.
However the bill may not even be brought up for a vote before the end of 2018.
Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced the bill — called The First Step Act — back in May of this year. In the bill, Cornyn, along with a bipartisan group of Senators, laid out a plan that would reduce the prison population, which would in turn save taxpayers’ money due to no longer keping low-risk offenders in the federal prison system.
“The FIRST STEP Act is modeled after successful reforms that states like Texas have implemented to rehabilitate low-risk offenders and prepare them to reenter society,” Sen. Cornyn said in a public statement.
The bill is co-sponsored by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) and has companion legislation in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Doug Collins (R-Georgia) and newly elected House Democratic Caucus chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York). Their legislation is modeled on a bill in the Texas legislature dubbed the Corrections Act, which led to statewide reforms in the Texas penal system.
Among the many components of this bill is a mandate for the Department of Justice to develop risk-assessment tools to assess the risk of recidivism (also known as offenders re-entering the prison system) in repeat offenders, limit the use of restraints on pregnant prisoners, and audits to help reduce and eventually eliminate prison rape.
However, Sen. Cornyn faces opposition to this bill within his own party from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) — who told President Trump that a criminal justice bill would not be brought to the Senate floor before the end of the year — and Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), who has stated in the past that there’s an “under-incarceration” problem. Sen. Cotton also tweeted false claims about the First Step Act that were debunked in a lengthy Twitter thread by former U.S. Attorney Brett L. Tolman.
Let’s unpack/analyze @SenTomCotton’s arguments.
1/ on the argument there have been no hearings, this is a red herring. There have been multiple hearings in house and senate on all parts of #FirstStepACt —I testified myself in 2 hrgs in Senate and 1 in House https://t.co/tS2w0snn5X
— Brett L. Tolman (@tolmanbrett) November 20, 2018
In spite of this opposition, the bill has the support of President Trump — who backed the plan on November 14th. Trump said there are many high risk criminals in the prison population, “but we’re treating people differently for different crimes. Some people got caught up in situations that were very bad.”
Trump even lamented to Congress that he wanted a bill on his desk to sign into law as soon as possible.
“…it’s the right thing to do,” Trump said.
Sen. McConnell originally said he’d bring the bill to the Senate floor if more than 60 Senators supported it, but recanted on that remark and said it would have to be weighed next to other pending legislation to see how much of a priority the bill will take before the end of the year.
Brandon Howard is a Grit Post contributor, auto worker, and former public radio reporter based out of Lexington, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter @mrpowerhoward.