After an 87-12 vote, and with the expectation the U.S. House will pass a similar version, President Trump will sign a bill containing some of the biggest federal criminal justice reforms in decades and that's a good start.
When we last wrote about the bill, getting something done before the end of the year appeared to be a pipe dream. With Ted Cruz worrying about phantom violent felons getting early releases and John Cornyn puttering, passage seemed unlikely. Thankfully, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, at the urging of President Trump, brought the bill back from the dead and began to move it toward final passage.
When assessing Trump's views about crime, it's most surprising to see him get on board. After all, he ran on a "tough on crime" platform and is quick to point out how tough a candidate is on crime when he endorses a fellow Republican. We are often critical of the president's impetuousness, but in this case, we'll take it.
The naysayers who voted against the bill have stoked irrational fear of the streets running wild with violent felons. The fact is, the bill only affects the federal prison system that holds approximately 180,000 prisoners of the 2.1 million total United States prison population and contains modest reforms dealing with mandatory minimum sentences, three strikes laws and reducing the disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentences.
In addition to the reforms, what makes this occasion valuable is the degree to which it's a bill that enjoys wide support across the political spectrum. Groups including the ACLU and Right on Crime, the national campaign for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, both supported the legislation.
As we said, the bill is aptly named, The First Step Act. States, including Texas, have been well ahead of the feds in passing significant criminal justice reform including reducing prison sentences and turning some drug possession misdemeanors as opposed to felonies. So there is still work to do, but we're pleased to see something positive come out of a lame duck session of Congress.
We think it serves as a reminder that when elected officials put aside petty differences and do what's best for the country as opposed to what's best for their parties, there's a positive impact on people's lives.
It also helps to gain back some of the trust in our political institutions that elected officials have squandered over the last several decades. It will take a lot more work, but this is a step in the right direction.
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