Senate passes First Step Act with push from criminal justice groups; bill goes to House
WASHINGTON – Alex Gudich and the team from #cut50 weren’t taking any votes for granted. They spent Tuesday knocking on the doors of senators and urging them to support a criminal justice reform bill up for a vote, something they didn’t know would happen that night.
“We knew that it would be a tough vote for many members on both sides,” said Gudich, deputy director for the national advocacy group pushing to overhaul the nation’s criminal justice system. “We’re here at a very, very pivotal moment.”
In a major step in that effort, the Senate voted 87 to 12 late Tuesday to approve the bipartisan “First Step Act” pushed by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Mike Lee, R-Utah and Cory Booker, D-N.J. The bill must now go over to the House for a vote. President Donald Trump has supported the measure.
The measure aimed at reducing the number of people in the nation’s prisons would among other things, give judges more discretion in sentencing offenders for nonviolent crimes, particularly drug offenses, and bolster rehabilitation programs for former prisoners.
The Senate defeated amendments proposed by Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and John Kennedy of Louisiana that would have required the Bureau of Prisons to notify victims before a prisoner is released and tracked former offenders after they’re released.
Opinion: Vote on FIRST STEP Act to reform ‘out of whack’ prison sentences
Several advocacy groups, including #cut50, and national civil rights groups, including the National Urban League, have been a part of a massive push to get the legislation passed.
“It’s been a long time in raising the awareness of how the system of mass incarceration is so destructive and needs to be fixed and reformed,” said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League. “There’s been a lot of groundwork that has been laid over the years.”
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