Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Trump backs criminal justice reform bill

Bipartisan criminal-justice reform could happen soon — if the 1990s wing of the GOP gets out of the way - Los Angeles Times:

November 19, 2018 - "A federal criminal-justice reform bill designed to make sentencing more rational and inmates’ return to society more successful has bipartisan support and last week won the backing of President Trump.... The bill, known as the First Step Act, would move federal sentencing laws and reentry programs ever so slightly in the direction of reforms already adopted in many deep blue states such as California and many bright red ones such as Georgia.

"Congress has already reduced sentences for crack convictions to bring them more in line with similar offenses involving powder cocaine, but the changes apply only to convictions handed down in 2010 or later. This bill would finally make those changes retroactive and would thus affect thousands of imprisoned, mostly African American men sentenced under the unfair drug laws adopted in the crime panic of the 1990s. It also would eliminate mandatory life-without-parole for repeat drug offenders and would reduce mandatory sentences for other drug offenses by a few years. It would reduce mandatory minimums for gun crimes ([but] does not eliminate the availability of much longer sentences). And it would enforce laws and regulations that are already on the books but are not always followed — for example, applying good-conduct credits ... and providing rehabilitative services and education.

"These changes are overdue. Long sentences keep thousands of Americans locked up well after the punitive or rehabilitative value of the incarceration has been exhausted. The bill returns some discretion to judges to make the sentence fit the crime....

"The bill is modest in the extreme.... For all its modesty, though, it’s a good bill, and if they are smart, Democrats and Republicans, the House and the Senate, will join and adopt it during the lame-duck session....

"Many conservatives have come to question tough sentencing laws, seeing them as contrary to bedrock values of small government, fiscal discipline, personal responsibility and family preservation. The 'Right on Crime' movement has worked to recapture from liberals the moral leadership on criminal-justice reform. At the same time, tough-on-crime Republicans like [Sen. Tom] Cotton (and recently departed Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions) remain influential....

"Trump ... campaigned as a traditional tough-on-crime conservative and backed Sessions.... Earlier this year, he called for the death penalty for drug dealers.... But the bill has been strongly pushed by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the president has now signed on. Most of the signals are good. Congress would be wise to act quickly, before the notoriously mercurial president changes his mind."

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