So reforming penalties for some nonviolent drug offenders is within the realm of possibility (and might be here sooner than we thought), but what happens to the many people who are incarcerated for offenses that are harder to corral bipartisan support for?
The First Step Act, which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delayed bringing to the Senate floor for a vote for weeks, would ease mandatory minimum sentences at the federal level. In a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning, Grassley says the bill will give an untold number of Americans renewed hope this Christmas season that "their father, mother, son or daughter" will soon have a chance to redeem themselves.
An array of liberal and conservative advocacy groups rallied in support of the bill.
The push for the legislation gained momentum as progressive Democrats were joined by fiscal conservatives, who saw the potential for savings if the US prison population was reduced, along with religious conservatives who preached the importance of giving people a second chance.
Among the proposed changes, the measure supports the expansion of job training and other programming meant to reduce recidivism rates among federal prisoners. But as crime has dropped and states have pursued cost-effective ways to cut the prison population, Congress has pursued changes to the system, with GOP lawmakers arguing for rehabilitating some offenders rather than long-time incarceration. "We're investing in the men and women who want to turn their lives around once they're released from prison, and we're investing in so doing in stronger and more viable communities, and we're investing tax dollars into a system that helps produce stronger citizens".
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Despite a few fierce critics of the bill, including Sen.
On the prison side, the bill would create more job training and drug treatment for inmates, among other changes. Certain prisoners would be eligible for incentives if they participate, including credits that would allow them to spend up to a year of their sentences in facilities like halfway houses or at home under supervision.
The intense objections of Senate hardliners like Tom Cotton of Arkansas and John Kennedy of Louisiana - who made false claims that the bill would lead to early releases of people convicted of violent offenses - helped deprioritize the bill by Senate leadership. A different version passed the House this year, so the House would have to pass the latest draft before it can be sent to Trump for his signature.
There are additional regulations about compassionate release for people who are terminally ill. For example, the Koch brothers-backed group, Americans for Prosperity, applauded senators for putting "policy ahead of politics". Cory Booker, however, reminds his colleagues this is indeed just the first step and there's more work to be done on this issue. The nation's federal prison population has soared by more than 700 percent since the 1980s. States have shown that it's possible to reduce incarceration rates and crime rates at the same time, said Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga.