Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Bill Signed into Law

December 22, 2018 by TWN Staff
President Donald Trump hands off a pen after he signed the First Step Act and the Juvenile Justice Reform Act in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Friday, Dec. 21, 2018. (Oliver Contreras/Sipa USA/TNS)

Friday, President Trump signed the First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill. The law makes sentencing and prison reforms to the U.S. Criminal Justice System, including corrections to ensure no person is sitting in prison serving more time than what they would get for the same offense today, while also allowing judges some discretion to issue sentences below the mandatory minimums for qualified low-level, non-violent drug offenders. Additionally, the First Step Act makes critical investments to improve prison conditions, including providing feminine healthcare products.

Members of the House and Senate on both sides of the aisle lauded the bill’s signing and marks a major legislative victory for a Congress that has been essentially gridlocked.

Here are what Representatives and Senators have said:

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH):

“This bill is a good first step, but just a first step. There is still more work to be done to fix the inequities in our justice system. Our criminal justice system should be tough, but fair. And it should work to help prepare people to reintegrate back into society.”

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV):

“I saw firsthand in Nevada that our state is stronger when we give law enforcement the flexibility to render sentences that fit the crimes committed and provide opportunities to support those incarcerated to rejoin society. This legislation will help rehabilitate nonviolent offenders so that they can contribute to our communities and provides guidelines for judges to ensure that they are not forced to order severe sentences that do not match the crime. I applaud my Senate colleagues for coming together and standing up for justice in a bipartisan way and for taking action on meaningful criminal justice reform.”

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX):

“This week has been a historic week for justice. Crimes committed against Americans seeking their rightful place in the American dream during the civil rights movement too often went unsolved. But this bill seeks to right these historic wrongs by disclosing case records so that the public may pursue leads and document these tragic events. I am grateful my colleagues in the House recognize the importance of this issue, and am proud to have worked with Sen. Jones on this bipartisan bill. It is my hope that, with additional sunlight to these cold cases, there will be revelation, justice, and closure where it has long been lacking.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD):

“I am pleased that my bill, The MERCY Act, was included in the final bill.  Compounding incarceration with solitary confinement can break a young person’s spirit beyond repair, and it can have devastating long-term impacts on their mental and physical health.  The MERCY Act takes a strong step toward eliminating this barbaric practice, to ensure our youth have a chance to be rehabilitated and become contributing members of their communities.”

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL):

“By passing this legislation through Congress, we will now finally begin to make our justice system fairer, relieve our overcrowded prisons, redirect funding to our most pressing crime prevention efforts, and make our communities safer.  I commend my colleagues in the House of Representatives, especially Representatives Jerry Nadler, Sheila Jackson Lee, Hakeem Jeffries, Bob Goodlatte, and Doug Collins, for their spirit of cooperation on this important piece of legislation, and I look forward to it becoming the law of the land.”

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA):

“Today’s overwhelming vote in the House of Representatives brings us one step closer to once-in-a-generation criminal justice reform.  I commend my colleagues in the House, especially Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Ranking Member Jerry Nadler, as well as Congressman Doug Collins and Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, for their leadership and engagement on the First Step Act, and for helping to get this bipartisan bill to President Trump. After years of hard work and dedication, Congress has notched a big victory for families, taxpayers, fairness and justice.”

Senator Doug Jones (D-AL):

“This legislation has made a remarkable journey from its conception in a high school classroom to its passage in Congress today. From the students who first brought their draft bill to my attention years ago to the journalists and researchers who study these civil rights cold cases to my colleagues Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Bobby Rush, this was truly a team effort to do the right thing by these victims and their families. While we can’t change history, we can and should do whatever we can to seek truth and healing. Today, we took an important step forward in the effort to ensure justice delayed is not justice denied.”

Rep. Annie Kuster (D-H):

“Over incarceration has needlessly filled our prisons and destroyed communities. The First Step Act is the beginning of necessary changes to our broken criminal justice system. I was proud to support these bipartisan reforms, but this cannot be the end of the road. In the new Congress, we must continue to build on this cooperation to make meaningful improvements to our criminal justice system, so it better serves the purpose of improving public safety and helping people rebuild their lives and become productive members of their communities. An important aspect of that change is ensuring that individuals suffering from substance use disorder can access treatment and recovery services during incarceration. I’ve worked with Republicans and Democrats to craft legislation that would expand treatment in prison facilities, which saves taxpayer dollars, saves lives, and reduces recidivism. I look forward to pursuing this win-win-win legislation in the new Congress.”

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT):

“This is a welcome glimmer of bipartisanship to advance long overdue reforms that are important to thousands of individuals, their families, and their communities.  It is especially timely, coming amid the other contentious issues that are churning the Congress and the nation right now. The First Step Act, while it does not go as far as I would like, will achieve the most significant reforms to our criminal justice system in a decade.  Including our Second Chance Reauthorization Act is an acknowledgement that criminal justice reform is not complete without a commitment to strengthening reentry services for ex-offenders. Almost every single offender in our justice system will one day be released. We owe it to them, their families, and the communities where they will live to help ensure that they can lead productive lives.”

Rep. Patrick Maloney (D-NY):

“This isn’t going to solve all of the problems in our criminal justice system, but it’s a great start to tackling the problem of mass incarceration. For too long, our broken system has locked people up and thrown away the key – and it’s disproportionately hurt communities of color. We need to get people ready for life after incarceration and address mandatory minimums that too often target low-income communities. This bill does just that.

“Moving forward, we should focus on the front-end of our criminal justice system. I’d like to get rid of cash bail, which really just punishes people for not having a lot of money. I think we also need to pass a few bills I introduced which will divert people with addictions to treatment rather than just locking them up and guarantee minors and people living in poverty get fair legal counsel.”

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV):

“I’m proud the Senate was able to come together in a bipartisan way to pass common sense criminal justice and sentencing reform. The revised First Step Act offers a second chance for nonviolent offenders and by focusing on the skills necessary for people to stay out of prison it should reduce incarceration rates. This bill is an important step towards making our communities safer and our justice system fairer.

“I’m pleased the Gun Locker bill, which I lead with Senator Toomey, was included.  This legislation requires the Bureau of Prisons to allow a correctional officer at a federal prison or correctional institution to carry their concealed firearm on BOP premises outside the security perimeter and store the firearm outside the security perimeter in a secure storage area or in a vehicle lockbox. Ensuring our correctional officers can commute to and from work without fear for their safety.

“However, I’m disappointed my bill the Clean Start Act was not included. I’ll continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass the Clean Start Act to allow people with a federal felony or misdemeanor conviction for a past nonviolent crime committed as a result of drug addiction an opportunity to have their criminal record sealed after undergoing comprehensive addiction treatment and demonstrating a commitment to their recovery.”

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH):

“Renewing and strengthening the Second Chance Act is critical to our efforts to stop the revolving door of incarceration and help former inmates live up to their God-given potential, and I’m pleased the president signed it into law today. The Second Chance Act helps people be able to create their own future — rather than be held back by the mistakes of their past. It has already changed thousands of lives in Ohio and across the country by helping ex-offenders turn their life around and become a productive members of society. The president’s action today will make our communities safer while also saving taxpayer dollars.”

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-NJ):

“I was delighted when Senators Jones and Cruz introduced companion legislation to my bill, H.R. 1272, and I am even more excited to see that this bill is on its way to the President’s desk.  With the passage of this legislation, families and communities that have waited too long for answers about the loss of loved ones may finally have the chance for closure. This bill came to fruition because of the hard work of a group of students from Hightstown High School in New Jersey and their teacher, Mr. Stuart Wexler, who started this legislative journey when they first visited my office in 2016.  I thank these devoted students for their dedication to this cause and applaud them for their diligence.”

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH):

“As the name suggests, this legislation is just the first step in what absolutely must be a broad, deliberate, and comprehensive approach to reforming how criminal justice is handled in the United States. For too long our justice system has disproportionately targeted people of color and trapped low-income Americans into a cycle of debt and incarceration. Unrigging this system will take time, but we must fight every day to ensure it takes as little time as possible. Fair and impartial justice is a moral imperative and the great unfinished work of achieving full civil rights for every citizen. I was proud to vote in favor of this legislation today to advance the cause of justice.”

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL):

“Today, Congress passed truly significant legislation, tackling a politically-thorny issue in a bipartisan way to make progress for the American people.

“We are long overdue to reform our criminal justice system. Today’s legislation is an important first step, and one I was proud to support in the Judiciary Committee. In particular, I am glad the final legislation grants judges greater leeway when enforcing mandatory minimums, reduces the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, and invests in job training and drug treatment to help inmates re-integrate into society and lower recidivism.

“More broadly, this legislation demonstrates what is possible when Members of Congress put aside partisan differences and are willing to compromise for the greater good. In the new year and new majority, I hope we can build on this spirit of cooperation to tackle other pressing challenges facing our nation – from infrastructure to immigration to health care.”


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