Today: 17.08.2018
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16.08.2018

House overwhelmingly passes bipartisan prison reform bill.

WASHINGTON — The House by an overwhelming 360-59 vote passed a bipartisan reform bill Tuesday that provides more education for federal prisoners and gives them a second chance after their release. Authored by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the First Step Act would authorize $250 million over five years to develop...
Time: 18:15     Date: 22.05.2018
Last US News: House overwhelmingly passes bipartisan prison reform bill. NY Post 24 - US News

Authored by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the First Step Act would authorize $250 million over five years to develop and expand programs that reduce recidivism and give incentives for good behavior.

The bill would also boost current inmates’ chances for a GED, vocational and college courses as well as substance abuse and mental health help, Jeffries told lawmakers on the House floor.

“These are individuals who are in the system right now without hope, without opportunity, without a meaningful chance at transforming themselves,” Jeffries said. “And the First Step Act will provide that. … Why would we possibly refuse that?”

A chief opponent of the bill, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan), said the legislation fails to reform sentencing guidelines and could even “exacerbate racial biases” when prison officials conduct a risk assessment for each offender.

“On principle, I cannot support legislation which fails to address the larger issues of sentencing reform,” said Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. “Though this bill makes some modest improvements in areas related to our prisons, it actually does more harm by cementing into our system new areas of racial biases and disadvantage that make worse a criminal justice system desperately in need of reform.”

The bill earned diverse support from conservative groups – like the Charles Koch Institute and the Faith and Freedom Coalition– as well as progressive leaders like commentator Van Jones and his Dream Corps’ #cut50 initiative. But the ACLU and NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund opposed the bill, arguing it doesn’t go far enough.

The legislation is a priority for the White House, thanks to the advocacy of Jared Kushner, who saw how his father, Charles, was treated in federal prison. The president’s son-in-law worked closely with the bill’s authors and helped host a prison reform summit at the White House last week with President Trump.

“America is a nation that believes in the power of redemption,” Trump said Friday. “America is a nation that believes in second chances, and third chances, in some cases. And, I don’t know, I guess even fourth chances.”

The powerful chairman of Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) wants any prison legislation tied to sentencing reforms. Grassley is trying to keep alive his bipartisan bill – the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act – that passed out of committee earlier this year, but hasn’t gotten support from the Administration or a floor vote from Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell.

But backers say the quest for a more comprehensive bill that addresses the causes of mass incarceration shouldn’t stop incremental progress.

“We know that over 90 percent of all prisoners within the Bureau of Prisons will be released someday,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “That is an indisputable fact. We also know that without programming and intervention, which can train prisoners to be better citizens, not better criminals, prisoners are more likely to recidivate.”

The legislation allows inmates to earn up to 54 days of “good time” credit per year instead of the current 47 days. It also offers incentives to get inmates to participate in new programs, including increased phone and visitation periods and transfer to an institution closer to a prisoner’s home.

Federal inmates could serve the end of their sentences in halfway houses, under the bill. The legislation also ensures inmates are locked up closer to their families and pregnant women wouldn’t be shackled.

The Charles Koch Institute released a poll last week that found 80 percent of managers, human resource professionals and employees surveyed are willing and open to working with individuals with a criminal record.

“We are hopeful that with the business community’s belief in second chances, and reforms to our prison system, the US will see a reduction in the recidivism rate through the removal of these barriers to opportunity, said Charles Koch Institute’s Senior Research Fellow Vikrant Reddy.

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