Congress Passes Landmark Criminal Justice Reform Bill, Trump To Sign It Into Law

The "First Step Act" received overwhelming bipartisan support.

U.S. Senate
Photo Credit: Screenshot/NBC News

| December 20 2018,

2:26 pm

Update (December 20, 2018): A criminal justice reform bill called the First Step Act that passed the Senate this week has now cleared the House of Representatives and will head to the White House.

USA Today reports the bill, which enjoyed broad bipartisan support, passed the House with a 358-36 vote. Although it currently lacks the president's signature, it already has White House approval, having won the cosign of a key presidential adviser, Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. 

The president himself tweeted his congratulations to Congress for its work in drafting, amending and passing the legislation, writing, "This is a great bipartisan achievement for everybody. When both parties work together, we can keep our country safer. A wonderful thing for the USA!!"

As Vox notes, the bill only affects federal prisoners; local laws govern those locked up by state governments. The federal government oversees the minority of the U.S. prison population, about 180,000 people. A total of 2.1 million people are incarcerated across the country, a number that roughly equals the people of Houston, according to Houston Public Media. 

The bill makes some small changes to current criminal justice law. It makes it easier for federal prisoners to secure early release through good behavior, extends 2010 crack sentencing protections to those sentenced under pre-2010 laws and edits rules on mandatory minimum sentences. 

As the bill is somewhat limited in scope (it doesn't address marijuana or the cash bail system, for instance) advocates in Congress are already promising more criminal justice reform legislation is on the horizon.

Representative Cedric Richmond (D-LA), the soon-to-be former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the bill lives up to its name in that “it’s a good first step." This sentiment was echoed by Holly Harris, who heads the Justice Action Network. Harris said she and other reform activists are celebrating this win, but have "already started talking about the second step."

Original: The U.S. Senate passed a historic criminal justice reform bill, and it could translate to reduced prison sentences for nonviolent offenders.

The First Step Act will lessen the burden for felons making their transition from prison to halfway homes or house arrest, per CNBC.

According to NBC News, the "First Step Act" passed 87-12.

Furthermore, the act intends to develop policies to prevent repeat offenders and protect first-time, non-violent offenders from harsh convictions.

BuzzFeed News notes that since negotiations of the bill began, there wasn't always bipartisan support to enact into law. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) revealed a bipartisan crew of senators came together to persuade their colleagues to authorize this regulation, and Senate leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) allowed the vote to move forward when a majority of members from both sides championed the bill.

The measure would allow reprieve for nearly 3,000 inmates still serving jail time under a dated system that regards possession of crack cocaine 100 times more severe than ownership of the powdered drug.

BuzzFeed writes the First Step Act furthermore amends a "three strikes" mandate by decreasing the second strike sentence from 20 years to 15 years of jail time and the third offense from a life sentence to 25 years.

Booker tweeted an enthusiastic response to the passing, calling the process "years in the making."

The legislation now rests in the hands of the House, which is expected to vote on the bill as early as Wednesday, notes BuzzFeed. The House adopted an identical policy in May, and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) intends on ushering the bill into law before the 115th Congress concludes at the end of the year.

Blavitize your inbox! Join our daily newsletter for fresh stories and breaking news.

Liking this content? Check these out:

Why The First Step Act Is More About Patting Politicians On the Back Than It Is About Prison Reform

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Pausing On The Politics For A Week To Take Care Of Herself

Activist Therese Patricia Okoumou Could Face Up To 18 Months In Prison For Climbing Statue Of Liberty