Time for Senate to Act on Criminal Justice Reform

November 16, 2018

It is not every day that Democrats and Republicans are able to work together in Washington to produce legislation that makes Americans safer, strengthens American families, all while shrinking the federal government. But that is what happened this week when President Trump endorsed the First Step Act, a House passed prison reform bill that, thanks to a bipartisan group of senators, now contains much needed sentencing reforms too.

“Americans from across the political spectrum can unite around prison reform legislation that will reduce crime while giving our fellow citizens a chance at redemption,” President Trump said Wednesday from the White House. “Today’s announcement shows that true bipartisanship is possible.”

The compromise legislation does not contain everything that many in the criminal justice reform movement want, but it is a huge improvement over the current system and includes the following provisions:
- Incentivizes participation in evidence-based recidivism reduction programs by allowing prisoners to earn time credits for prerelease custody.
- Excludes violent, high-risk, and sexual offenders from the prerelease custody program.
- Mandates that inmates be incarcerated no more than 500 miles from their primary residence so their families can visit more often
- Forbids the use of restraints on pregnant inmates.
- Gives judges the power to reduce overly punitive mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses.
- Applies current law equally to all those convicted of cocaine and crack offenses regardless of when they were convicted.

These are all commonsense reform measures that have won the support of key law enforcement organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police, the National District Attorneys Association, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Passing these reforms would be a huge win for the American people.

But the American people haven’t won yet.

First, the legislation must be put on the Senate floor where it would easily get 60 votes to pass. Unfortunately, those in charge of the Senate schedule are refusing to give the bill a vote.

Before this November’s election, there was a promise to bring the bill to the floor if a whip check found there were 60 votes for the bill. But now we are told even if the votes are there, there is not time to vote on criminal justice reform.

But nothing new has come up between the time these two statements were made. The Senate has the exact same to do list today that it did back in October. There is plenty of time to get criminal justice reform done. It just needs to be put on the Senate floor.

If some senators oppose this legislation, if they disagree with President Trump about how best to keep Americans safe, then they should welcome the opportunity to make their case publicly on the Senate floor. They should welcome the opportunity to offer amendments or vote the bill down.

But to deny this bill a vote, a bipartisan bill fully endorsed by President Trump, would be a huge loss for the president, for the Senate, and for the nation.

Families and communities desperately need these reforms and have had their liberty restricted in the most severe way. Are we really going to look them in the eye and tell them “we don’t have time,” when we know we do?