President Trump signs criminal justice reform into law: Column
By Rep. Dan Newhouse
Last week, Congress acted, and President Trump signed into law major criminal justice reform, the First Step Act. As the national crime rate declines, this legislation makes changes to reduce recidivism among federal prisoners, increase public safety, and save taxpayer dollars.
Earlier this year, President Trump said, “I’m thrilled to announce my support for this bipartisan bill that will make our communities safer and give former inmates a second chance at life after they have served their time … . And we’re all better off when former inmates can receive and reenter society as law-abiding, productive citizens. And thanks to our booming economy, they now have a chance at more opportunities than they’ve ever had before.” The president continued: “The bill includes reasonable sentencing reforms while keeping dangerous and violent criminals off our streets.”
President Trump pointed out the example of Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old grandmother who was sentenced to life in prison without eligibility for parole for a first-time, non-violent drug offense. Johnson has accepted responsibility for her crime and has already served 21 years in federal prison. She admitted that what she did was wrong and served adequate time in prison, even becoming an ordained minister and a mentor to other prisoners. The president served the cause of justice by commuting Johnson’s sentence, saying, “While this administration will always be very tough on crime, it believes that those who have paid their debt to society and worked hard to better themselves while in prison deserve a second chance.” The First Step Act will treat non-violent offenses like Johnson’s more fairly.
The bill gives judges more say in sentencing through targeted reforms including reducing the three-strike penalty for non-violent drug offenses from life imprisonment to 25 years. It creates a risk and needs assessment system that will ensure each prisoner’s risk of re-offending is assessed while excluding violent and high-risk criminals, including fentanyl traffickers, from using new “time credits.” It will encourage prisoners to participate in evidence-based programs to reduce recidivism.
The First Step Act ensures dangerous, violent criminals serve their time behind bars, preserving the maximum potential sentences for violent and career criminals. It also ensures courts cannot reduce mandatory minimum sentences of violent and serious criminals, and it provides courts the ability to lengthen sentences for deserving criminals.
The bipartisan legislation was supported by many diverse groups and was backed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Fraternal Order of Police, Prison Fellowship, and the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
President Trump has said that “Americans from across the political spectrum can unite around prison reform legislation that will reduce crime while giving our fellow citizens a chance at redemption.”
The First Step Act is a breakthrough that will give Americans like Alice Marie Johnson a second chance.
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., represents Washington’s 4th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. To send an email to Rep. Newhouse, go to https://newhouse.house.gov/contact.