US Senate approves overhaul of criminal justice system
Washington, Dec. 19 (IANS): The US Senate has overwhelmingly approved a sweeping overhaul of the country’s criminal justice system that would decrease America’s prison population by lowering some mandatory federal sentences and giving inmates added opportunities to earn reductions in jail time.
Senators on Tuesday night voted 87-12 for the overhaul in the system that had been viewed by many conservatives and liberals view as “costly and unfair”. The First Step Act drew resounding support from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers as well as President Donald Trump.
“Congratulations to the Senate on the bipartisan passing of a historic Criminal Justice Reform Bill… This will keep our communities safer and provide hope and a second chance, to those who earn it,” Trump tweeted shortly after the vote.
“I look forward to signing this into law!”
The bill is expected to be endorsed by the House during a vote later this week. It will then go to Trump’s desk, ready to be signed into law, the Washington Post reported.
The First Step Act would expand job training and other programming aimed at reducing recidivism rates among federal prisoners. It also expands early-release programmes and modifies sentencing laws, including mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders.
The legislation will reduce the so-called “three strikes” penalty for drug felonies from life in prison to 25 years behind bars. The three strikes rule was introduced when former President Bill Clinton was in office, mandating a life sentence for three or more convictions.
The bill also retroactively ends the discrepancy in federal sentences for drug offences involving crack and the powder form of cocaine, which would reduce jail time for thousands of prisoners convicted of crack offences. According to the Post, this change would affect about 2,000 current federal inmates.
House Speaker Paul Ryan voiced his support for the bill, saying: “Criminal justice reform is about giving more Americans a chance at redemption. House looks forward to sending it to the president to become law.”
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said that apart from saving money, the bill also aims to invest in “human potential”.
“We’re investing in the men and women who want to turn their lives around once they’re released from prison,” he was quoted as saying by the Post.
The Post also said the reform, which does not cover state jails, will trim altogether 53,000 years of the sentences of current inmates over the next decade, citing data from the Congressional Budget Office.
The newspaper added, however, that the figure was disputed by advocacy groups.