It's surprising that criminal justice reform hasn't, up to this point, been on the forefront of politicians' agendas—since we're living in the country with the highest incarceration rate in the world. We dominate even communist China and totalitarian-leaning Iraq with our miserable numbers. But if our elected officials truly want to make a positive impact for the future of the country—as they boast during campaign season—then fixing our incarceration problem would seem like a good place to start. Fortunately, with President Trump's Wednesday announcement of support for the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act (First Step Act), there could finally a foundation for real, sweeping criminal justice reform in America. But lawmakers have to do their part.
Key advocates such as Senator Mike Lee( R-UT ) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL ) have worked on this issue for a number of years, but remained unable to make progress. And it's past time for their colleagues to step up and support the First Step compromise. Although FIRST may not be the perfect bill, it's still indicative fo progress made. The bill includes considerable changes in favor of fairness toward individuals caught in the criminal justice system—while also upholding the widespread safety of communities across the country. Its reforms, too, have evolved from policies which legislators have already successfully implemented on the state level in a majority of states. It's sure to help millions of future Americans avoid overly harsh sentencing laws and the unfair prison practices that are currently espoused by the federal system—a reality that even Trump has recognized.
In May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the initial version of the First Step Act with a vote of 360-59. It has since changed, with additions from a bipartisan group of Senators that added significant sentencing reforms to the bill. The compromise package now grants further sentencing discretion to judges, expands compassionate release for terminally-ill patients, bans the shackling of incarcerated women during childbirth, and expands time credit to allow incarcerated individuals more time off for good behaviour—among other great reforms.
President Trump's support of this newly-crafted bipartisan bill is a monumental, if somewhat unexpected, moment for America. "It's a strange and ironic twist to have the president's support push it over the finish line," Michael Waldman, president of Brennan Center for Justice, said on Wednesday.
But if Trump can put politics aside to even support the amendments that were added to the bill to appease Democrats... then all lawmakers should be able to do the same.
But if Trump can put politics aside to even support the amendments that were added to the bill to appease Democrats (mainly on sentencing reform), then all lawmakers should be able to do the same. Indeed, the bill has garnered support from both parties and has been backed by groups ranging from the ACLU to Koch Industries. Yet the Senate has still waited over five months to vote on the legislation. That seems like a long time until you consider that the wait for comprehensive criminal justice legislation has been far longer for those lawmakers trying to push reform.
The Senate may still be divided on this bill, but Trump's support on this bipartisan issue should stand as an example of compromise when it counts. And while his outward support for the First Step Act may be off-putting to some more stringent MAGA adherents, it's necessary to pass positive compromises in order to restore true justice for all Americans. These reforms have been proven to work locally, and it's time to see them at work for those caught in our broken federal system. If Trump can see it, everyone else should be able to.