By Sandy . . . The First Step Act, now pending in the U.S. Senate, has been described as “a bipartisan-supported bill,” “an important but…modest first-step” toward desperately needed criminal justice reform. It is supported by legislators of both parties and by the President.
Modest is correct; the bill would only apply to 1.5 percent of those in federal prisons, and the federal prison population is less than 10 percent of the total number of those incarcerated in the United States. The federal prison system would have total control over who might qualify for the early release provisions, and there is a list of offenses that would make a prisoner ineligible.
Apparently, for once, not all sexual crimes are among the ineligible, or at least not enough of them to please Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR). He is is doing his best to derail the First Step Act by demagoguing the issue that some convicted of sexual offenses may see their sentences reduced. He is doing this to dissuade his fellow Republicans from supporting this bi-partisan prison reform initiative. He is dividing the Republican caucus with his grandstanding, claiming that senators who are in support of the act will be helping sex offenders.
This is the argument we have seen used over and over again by politicians, used against opponents who had the courage to support legislation based on facts and research but viewed as being “soft” on registered sexual offenders.
The First Step Act is supported by many law enforcement groups but not by all.
Persons on the registry often write us asking what they can do to help the efforts of NARSOL. Here is something that every registrant and all of his or her family members can do.
Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard, 202 224-3121, and ask for Sen. Cotton’s office. They will ring you right through. When a staffer answers, voice your concern that Senator Cotton is derailing a reform act that has broad bipartisan support and is needed for the benefit of our country. They may ask you if you live in Arkansas and what your address is. If you do live in Arkansas, that is great because he is probably not hearing from our side. If you do not, tell them this is a national issue that doesn’t affect Arkansas any more than any other state. It affects the nation.
Those who live in Arkansas can additionally complete and email a message to the Senator using this form.
We need to act now. This isn’t a state issue; it is a vital national issue.
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.