12.21.18

Whitehouse Attends Signing of Landmark Criminal Justice Reform Bill

Senator’s bipartisan legislation to help inmates successfully transition back to society

Washington, DC – Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Senate Judiciary Committee member and long-time criminal justice reform champion, attended the signing at the White House today of the First Step Act to improve the federal criminal justice system.  Whitehouse’s landmark criminal justice reform bill is now law.

“Years of bipartisan work, and the contributions of countless Americans fighting to reform our criminal justice system, brought us to this moment.  I am proud to be part of it,” said Whitehouse.  “This bill will use strategies that have worked in states like Rhode Island and Texas to help inmates settle their debt to society, stay out of trouble, and contribute to their community.  It will also put in place long-overdue sentencing reforms.  I am glad Rhode Islanders’ success is reflected in these reforms, and look forward to building on them.”

Whitehouse first introduced a central component of the First Step Act in 2013 with Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) to reduce the rate of re-offense among federal inmates, along with other important reforms.  That legislation was later merged with sentencing reform legislation to form the core of the First Step Act.

The bill establishes recidivism reduction programs, based on Whitehouse and Cornyn’s bill, to allow qualifying inmates under the provisions to receive reductions to their sentences through time credits upon successful completion of recidivism reduction programming.  Rhode Island implemented similar programs in 2008, which have been followed by a 17 percent reduction in the state prison population, a six percent drop in three-year recidivism rates, and a significant drop in crime.

The bill also narrows the scope of mandatory minimum prison sentences to focus on the most serious drug offenders and violent criminals, while broadening and establishing new outlets for individuals with minimal non-violent criminal histories that may trigger mandatory minimum sentences under current law.

Importantly, the bill preserves cooperation incentives to aid law enforcement in tracking down kingpins and stiffens penalties for individuals convicted of serious violent felonies.

Whitehouse met with a range of stakeholders in Rhode Island and nationwide in crafting the legislation.  Among those meetings was a dinner with President Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who have been working on the bill.

A one-page summary of the First Step Act is available here

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