In a bi-partisan fashion, the Senate has passed a sweeping criminal justice bill. It’s the last step before making it into law. To get the measure passed it took an extremely rare alliance of conservatives, liberals, activists, prosecutors and defense attorneys who pushed senators to pass the “First Step Act” by a final vote of 87-12.
The First Step Act seeks to expand job training and programs to help reduce recidivism rates among federal prisoners. The bill also allows judges to sentence below the mandatory minimum for qualified, low-level nonviolent drug offenders who cooperate with the government’s initiative.
As reported by the New York Times, “In all, it includes four changes to federal sentencing laws. One would shorten mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent drug offenses, including lowering the mandatory “three strikes” penalty from life in prison to 25 years. Another would provide judges greater liberty to use so-called safety valves to go around mandatory minimums in some cases.”
The bill acts as a corrective to the destructive policies that have targeted Black and Brown people in incredible numbers since the enactment of the War on Drugs and continued with the “three strikes” law.
There is one caveat: The bill is for federal laws not for state laws. If reforms are to take place on the state level, it will take a herculean effort from governors and state legislatures who can work together to pass similar a similar bill.
The measure will now go to the House where it is expected to pass before going to the President’s desk to be signed into the law.