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Bipartisan criminal justice reform bill clears US Senate

21 December 2018

In a rare show of bipartisan unity, Congress approved a sweeping bipartisan criminal justice reform bill on Thursday that was pushed by both liberals and conservatives.

"America is the greatest Country in the world and my job is to fight for ALL citizens, even those who have made mistakes", US President Donald Trump tweeted after the bill was passed.

The Senate approved the measure on Tuesday night by a vote of 87-12, moving it to the House just as lawmakers try to wrap up work for the year.

An inmate stands at his cell door at a maximum security facility in Arizona. It also would reduce life sentences for some drug offenders with three convictions, or "three strikes", to 25 years.

"The First Step Act", Grassley said, "takes lessons from history and from states - our laboratories of democracy - to reduce crime, save taxpayer dollars and strengthen faith and fairness in our criminal justice system". The House (which passed a somewhat different version of the bill earlier the year) is expected to rubber-stamp the Senate action later this week. "I look forward to signing this into law!" the Republican president added.

In the Senate, Republican James Lankford, a Southern Baptist, said the First Step Act "balances the need to keep our communities safe while providing an opportunity for prisoners to earn a second chance". Once implemented, the First Step Act would have a modest impact on incarceration numbers, as the bill only applies to federal inmates, who account for less than 10 percent of the national total.

Inmates walk the exercise yard at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville California
Inmates walk the exercise yard at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville California

"Rather than have a list of offenses that did not qualify, I think the better approach would have been to have a list of offenses that did qualify for the program", Rubio said. And he bucked the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, who worked for years to pass criminal justice reform in Congress and whose influential donor conferences Sasse has addressed several times in recent years. McConnell had previously refused to give a vote to a more expansive bill introduced during the presidency of Barack Obama.

The legislation also aims to establish programs to head off repeat offenders and protect first-time non-violent offenders from harsh mandatory minimum sentences. "I also remain concerned that reducing sentences for drug traffickers and violent felons is a threat to public safety".

The legislation also encourages prisoners to participate in programs created to reduce the risk of recidivism: an accumulation of credits can be used to gain an earlier release to a halfway house or home confinement to finish out their sentence.

All were narrowly voted down on the Senate floor on Tuesday. He had previously dubbed the bill a "jailbreak" over fears that it would release violent offenders onto the streets early.

"This bill in its entirety has been endorsed by the political spectrum of America", said Senator Richard J. Durbin, D-Illinois, who has led the push for changes.

"This is something I have believed in for a long time", said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. The Bureau of Prisons amended its policies in 2008 to bar the practice except in cases of flight risks, but there is no federal law against it.

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U.S. senators passed the measure, which would keep the government running until February 8, by voice vote without a roll call. The bill was delayed after Democrats refused to provide funding for President Donald Trump's southern border wall.

Bipartisan criminal justice reform bill clears US Senate