The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday, 87 to 12, to pass the First Step Act, an act that aims to overhaul the federal criminal justice system including limiting prison sentences. As the name indicates, the Act is considered a "first step" in the right direction toward justice system reform which could save taxpayers billions in incarceration costs.
The bill would revise several sentencing laws, such as reducing the “three strikes” penalty for drug felonies from a lifetime sentence to 25 years, and retroactively limiting the disparity in sentencing guidelines between crack and powder cocaine offenses. The latter would affect about 2,000 current federal inmates, and seeks to address inequitable results of the War on Drugs.
Indeed, the bill signifies a long sought-after move away from long prison sentences and inches towards a system that favors rehabilitation. The bill also overhauls the federal prison system to enable inmates earn reduced sentences and reduce recidivism rates - a real problem for the 180,000 federal inmates of the U.S..
The Washington Post reported late Tuesday, quoting Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) from the Senate floor, who called the legislation “perhaps the most significant bill to reform our criminal justice system in nearly a decade.”
“The First Step Act takes modest but important steps to remedy some of the most troubling injustices within our sentencing laws and our prison system,” Leahy said. “It is my hope that this bill represents not just a single piece of legislation, but a turning point in how Congress views its role in advancing criminal justice.”
The full Washington Post article can be read here.
The House of Representatives is expected to undertake a vote on the Senate-approved bill later this week. It will likely be the first bipartisan success of the Trump presidency. The President himself tweeted following the Senate vote, saying "This will keep our communities safer, and provide hope and a second chance, to those who earn it. In addition to everything else, billions of dollars will be saved. I look forward to signing this into law!”