First Step Act passes Senate; Cotton amendments rejected

By Nicholas Fandos . . . The Senate overwhelmingly approved on Tuesday the most substantial changes in a generation to the tough-on-crime prison and sentencing laws that ballooned the federal prison population and created a criminal justice system that many conservatives and liberals view as costly and unfair.

The First Step Act would expand job training and other programming aimed at reducing recidivism rates among federal prisoners. It also expands early-release programs and modifies sentencing laws, including mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, to more equitably punish drug offenders. . . .

Even as both sides acknowledged concessions, Tuesday’s vote was an important first step for the unlikely coalition of liberals and conservatives — including the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Conservative Union, Koch brothers and the liberal Center for American Progress — who locked arms in recent years and pushed lawmakers to reconsider the way the federal government administers justice three decades after the war on crime peaked. In one of this Congress’s final acts, every Democrat and all but 12 Republicans voted in favor of the legislation — an outcome that looked highly unlikely this month amid skepticism from Republican leaders. . . .

Proponents of the bill overcame an aggressive campaign by some conservatives who tried to resurrect the once-resonant charge that reducing sentences would make the United States less safe. Two Republicans, Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and John Kennedy of Louisiana, introduced amendments to limit which types of offenders would be eligible for early-release programs or to water down other changes. All were narrowly voted down on the Senate floor.

Read the full piece here at the New York Times.

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    • #50167 Reply
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      Ken Ackerman

      LISA – Legal Information Service Associates reports (link deleted, please see guidelines)
      “At the same time, the Senate adopted two amendments, one from Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), which permits faith-based groups participate in providing the recidivism-reducing programs envisioned by the bill, and another by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), which added a few specific offenses to the list of offenses excluded from early release and stripped judges of the right to make people with more than four Guidelines criminal history points eligible for the “safety valve” under 18 USC 3553(f).

      The Cotton-Kennedy amendment only needed a majority to pass, but none of the three sections even came close.”
      I have not been able to read the new bill as passed to see how it affects us but look forward when someone can report this. Of course, the House could still try to make changes. We will have to wait to see what the new year brings to our friends still in Federal prison waiting to see how it will affect them.
      Ken

    • #50194 Reply
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      Tim

      People need to understand the two parties are still in negotiations between house and Senate and the process is being covered by C-SPAN. THIS BILL IS BEING DONE OUTSIDE OF REGULAR ORDER. Yesterday’s coverage featured Sen McConnell routinely waiving the public reading of potential amendments. He is providing political cover by doing so. I can not be convinced this is much of a deal for state convictions.

    • #50187 Reply
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      Anon

      Sex offenders are excluded from early release program.

      The act is 150 pages. 13 of those pages are ineligible crimes. None of which are white collar, embezzlement, tax fraud, abuse of power type crimes.

      After reading through exemptions I began to wonder what real changes will happen.
      Low level offenders get out a little earlier.

      At the federal level only…

      Those eligible can get 10 days for every 30 days served. That’s 4 months off per year.
      Then there’s day for day and good time too?
      With all 3 of those together? A 2 year sentence quickly turns into 4 months.

      Higher commissary spending limits. More options. To be determined by the prisons.

      Section on pregnant women in restraints.

      You can choose to be in a facility 500miles from your primary residence.

      A small section on Juveniles in solitary.

      Better access to email.

      I hope someone can explain what I’m missing. There’s a lot of fluff and praise about this act.
      It seems like a very small step.

      Im still happy for those whom can benefit from it.

      Regards

    • #50215 Reply
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      Marie Shook

      Is it really true that non-violent, no contact sexual offenders are not included in the First Step? My heart broke again.

    • #50229 Reply
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      RC

      As someone entering prison in 2 weeks for possession of child pornography, I have found some conflicting information on who is excluded from First Step and am seeking clarification.

      From the FAMM website:
      FAMM WEBSITE—EXCLUSION (CP POSSESSION FIRST OFFENSE NOT EXCLUDED)
      Sexual exploitation of children (18 U.S.C. § 2251)

      Selling or buying children (18 U.S.C. § 2251A)

      Receipt or distribution of child pornography (18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(1), (2), or (3))

      Second or subsequent conviction for possession, distribution,or sale of child pornography (18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(1) through (6))

      However, From the revised version of First Step Act:
      THE REVISED FIRST STEP ACT OF 2018
      (S.3649)
      Grassley, Durbin, Lee, Whitehouse, Graham, Booker, Scott, Leahy
      Ernst, Klobuchar, Moran, Coons

      Crimes Against Children Exclusion. Offenders who have committed serious crimes against children will not be able to shorten their sentences. This includes anyone convicted of child pornography offenses USC 2251, 2252, 2252A, 2260

      This latter would imply there is a blanket ban of any and all CP offenses.

      I welcome any of your thoughts.

      thanks-RC

      • #50275 Reply
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        RegisteredNotOffender

        Glad you’re home for the holidays. My wife is in a support group with someone who got 5 years for CP when the prosecution was asking for 10. The judge also allowed him to stay home for a few more weeks.

    • #50250 Reply
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      Brenda

      It sadly does appear that all sexual crimes involving children have been excluded. We are still trying to read through it ourselves but the only exception we have found is for early release of persons with sexual offenses IF they are elderly or infirm.

      This is very very unfortunate and disappointing, of course, for the constituency of NARSOL and other organizations fighting for civil rights of persons convicted of sexual offenses. That being said, we will still celebrate the bill’s passage (quietly) because, as the name implies, it is a step in the right direction. Anyone who has ever tried to work through a document with a big committee using consensus knows how painfully hard and slow it can be. Throw in comments and pressure from outside… (and I haven’t even mentioned politics!) and you can perhaps understand the effort it takes to get something like this through with even SOME of the original language.

      Thus, although we are deeply saddened that a sizeable chunk of “our” people have been missed, we still want to applaud the bill’s passage. We will just have to start building a grassroots lobbying effort for the NEXT one and make sure it doesn’t take ten more years!

      • #50471 Reply
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        Ed C

        Brenda, your last sentence expresses my fear quite succinctly. I fear that politicians will adopt the attitude that they have addressed criminal justice reform, and don’t need to deal with it again. This is not a popular issue, nor one that wins elections. No politician was ever elected for being rational on crime. However, hope springs eternal.

    • #50425 Reply
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      Saddles

      First steps are always positive if grounded in the right way. Now Brenda and others on here have the right frame in mind and yes to get true justice one has to press on. What gets me upset is profiling such as this black man at the double tree hotel that was asked to leave. So are law enforcement personal profiling sex offenders? Social standard are good and so is social justice or are we all criminals in some form or means. I sometimes wonder who uses true justice today in thought or deed. While justice is good if used in the right way denying others of liberty is not, but we all must remember not to use that liberty as a cloak of malice.
      Now prison reform is good or are we all prisoners of our own device. or are we lead astray by others. Sure this first step policy is good but the real goodness is what comes from the heart if it is genuie and true. Don’t get me wrong but offenses will come but if one is profiling against another in this legal battle of justice something is very wrong.

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