In the News

Lawrence Journal World
Editorial Staff

Congress should endeavor to finish 2018 on a bipartisan note by approving common-sense criminal justice reform legislation.

The so-called First Step Act would eliminate mandatory minimum federal sentencing guidelines, giving judges more discretion in sentencing. It would change the so-called three strikes rule by reducing the mandatory sentence for a third violent crime or drug offense from life in prison to 25 years.

The act includes prison reforms that would increase inmates’ access to meaningful job training and other recidivism reduction programs. It would require the Bureau of Prisons to place inmates in facilities close to their families and ban the shackling of pregnant inmates.

The First Step Act is a Senate bill that merges reforms from legislation already approved in the House with provisions included a bill advanced by the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year.

President Trump supports the legislation. So does the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Senate version of the bill features sponsors from both sides of the aisle, including Democrats Dick Durbin, Cory Booker and Sheldon Whitehouse and Republicans Chuck Grassley, Mike Lee, Lindsey Graham and Kansas’ Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts.

Mandatory minimum sentencing, a product of America’s failed war on drugs, has driven incarceration, especially at the federal level, where nearly half of all inmates are there on drug charges. But mandatory minimum sentencing has not worked as intended to deter crime and instead has driven inmate populations to all-time highs. And as conservatives and liberals both have come to understand, incarceration is enormously expensive. It makes far more sense to invest in programs that offer treatment, education and training than it does to impose unduly harsh sentences without regard to circumstances.

Opponents of the First Step Act argue the legislation is soft on crime and could provide early release to violent offenders and illegal immigrants. But the bill categorizes crimes and has specific exceptions for illegal immigrants and for violent crimes such as assault with the intent to murder, sex offenses, child pornography, terrorism offenses, and offenses that result in death or serious bodily injury.

It isn’t clear whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will bring the Fair Step Act to the Senate floor for a vote before the end of the year. If not, the legislation will have to be introduced again after the new Congress takes over in January.

That would be unfortunate. Criminal justice reform is long overdue and has broad appeal from both sides of the aisle. It is exactly the kind of bipartisan action Americans have been seeking from their representatives in Washington.

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