Tuesday August 20, 2019
Home Lead Story Criminal Just...

Criminal Justice Reform Bill Gets Passed By the U.S. Senate

A wide array of law enforcement organizations support the bill, as do both right-leaning and left-leaning advocacy groups.

0
//
USA, prison, trump
The U.S. Capitol building at night. VOA

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved legislation to decrease America’s substantial prison population by lowering some mandatory federal sentences, giving inmates added opportunities to earn reductions in jail time, and encouraging prisoners to better themselves so they are less likely to return to crime upon release.

Passing 87-12, the First Step Act was hailed by proponents as a long-overdue retooling of the federal criminal justice system, an effort that drew resounding support from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers as well as President Donald Trump.

“Congratulations to the Senate on the bipartisan passing of a historic Criminal Justice Reform Bill,” Trump tweeted shortly after the vote. “I look forward to signing this into law!”

“The bill makes smart changes to our criminal justice system in ways that will make it fairer, more humane, and more just,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said.

prison
America’s prison population exceeds 2 million people, and incarceration consumes vast resources within the nation’s justice system. Pixabay

“This legislation is proof that we can be tough on crime and more compassionate to those who deserve a second chance,” Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker said in a statement.

The bill retroactively ends the discrepancy in federal sentences for drug offenses involving crack and the powder form of cocaine, which would reduce jail time for thousands of prisoners convicted of crack offenses.

The legislation also reduces some mandatory sentences, gives federal judges more flexibility to make exceptions to mandatory prison terms, and allow inmates to earn greater sentence reductions through good behavior and vocational training.

Proponents said the bill aims to correct a failed 1980s-era attempt to deter illegal drug use that established long mandatory prison sentences for drug convictions

“Since 1980, the federal prison population has grown by over 700 percent,” Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin said. “Today, the United States of America holds more prisoners by far than any country in the world, more than Russia or China.”

USA, prison
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., responds to a reporter’s question on Capitol Hill, Oct. 3, 2018 in Washington. VOA

Durbin added the existing law has unfairly targeted people of color, saying, “The majority of illegal drug users and dealers in America are white. But three-quarters of the people serving time in prison for drug offenses are African-American or Latino.”

The House of Representatives passed a similar version of the bill earlier this year. This week, the Senate raced to complete work on the legislation before the chamber adjourns for the Christmas holiday.

The First Step Act had robust but not universal Senate support in its current form. A group of Republicans argued it would open the door to lenient or vastly reduced sentences for violent offenders, and that it cedes too much authority to prison administrators.

“Justice exists when people receive what they deserve. Justice exists when a rapist receives a penalty proportionate to his crime,” Louisiana Republican John Kennedy said. “This bill says (current) sentences are unjust, so we are going to give the wardens, the director of the Bureau of Prisons that authority to let out whomever he or she wants to.”

Kennedy added, “I’m not going to vote to pass the buck to the bureaucracy and trust them to do the right thing.”

Kennedy and other opponents of the bill offered amendments specifying that violent offenders will be excluded from sentence reductions. All were defeated.

Trafficking, prison
This April 6, 2018, file photo shows a screenshot of Backpage.com on the day that federal authorities seized the classified site as part of a criminal case. VOA

“The legislation is certainly not a get-out-of-jail-free card for violent criminals or sex offenders,” Schumer said, explaining his opposition to the amendments.

America’s prison population exceeds 2 million people, and incarceration consumes vast resources within the nation’s justice system. 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. Other initiatives seek to achieve similar results at the state level.

Also Read: USA Finally Votes On Tuesday To Render Decision On Trump

A wide array of law enforcement organizations support the bill, as do both right-leaning and left-leaning advocacy groups.

“American families will be stronger and our communities will be safer,” Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee said. “This is a huge win for America and President Trump.” (VOA)

Next Story

US Senate Upholds Arms Sales to Bahrain, Qatar

The Senate voted 43-56 against moving the Bahrain resolution out of the Foreign Relations Committee

0
US, Senate, Sales
FILE - Two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters participate in a media demonstration. VOA

The U.S. Senate on Thursday turned back resolutions aimed at disapproving multi-billion-dollar arms sales to Bahrain and Qatar, amid continued intensive congressional scrutiny of weapons sales to U.S. allies in the Middle East.

The Senate voted 43-56 against moving the Bahrain resolution out of the Foreign Relations Committee and bringing it to the floor for consideration by the full chamber. It also voted 42-57 against discharging the resolution pertaining to Qatar.

Sponsored by Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, the resolutions seek to block the Trump administration’s decisions, announced in May, to sell U.S. missile systems to Bahrain and attack helicopters to Qatar, each valued in the $3 billion range.

“The Middle East is a hot cauldron and continually threatening to boil over,” Paul said ahead of the votes. “I think it’s a mistake to funnel arms into these century-old conflicts.”

US, Senate, Sales
The U.S. Senate on Thursday turned back resolutions aimed at disapproving multi-billion-dollar arms sales. Pixabay

Paul noted that weapons sent to the Middle East can wind up in the hands of America’s adversaries.

“In Iran to this day, they still have some U.S. weapons that are left over from the weapons the U.S. supplied the shah [U.S.-backed former Iranian leader overthrown in 1979]. In Iraq, some of the weapons we gave them to fight Iran were still there when we returned to fight Saddam Hussein. In Afghanistan, some of the weapons we gave to the Mujahideen to fight the Russians [in the 1980s] were still there when we returned to fight the Taliban [after the 9-11 attacks of 2001],” Paul said.

Last year, the Senate also defeated an effort by the Kentucky Republican to block the sale of rocket systems to Bahrain.

Bipartisan backing for such sales endured on Thursday, as even some senators who voted in favor of the discharge petitions as a procedural matter told VOA they do not support the underlying resolutions of disapproval.

Also Read- Researchers Find Overweight Kids Have Doubled Risk of High Blood Pressure

“I support the [arms] sales,” said the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez of New Jersey. “On the process, I’m voting to preserve the [Senate’s] institutional rights…for at least a debate to be had over the sales, but I support the underlying sales.”

Other lawmakers spoke out against the discharge petitions as well as the resolutions.

“If they [Gulf states] don’t buy arms from us, they’re going to buy them from China or Russia,” Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn told VOA. “Look, these countries are not democracies, we recognize that. But our interests are aligned, particularly in containing and combating Iran.”

 Bahrain has taken part in the Saudi-led coalition waging an air campaign over Yemen that has resulted in a staggering death toll in the country’s bloody civil war.
US, Senate, Sales
FILE – Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez speaks with the media on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 5, 2019. VOA

Asked if the bloodshed in Yemen gave him pause about U.S. arms sales to the region, Cornyn said, “It does. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can do about it. It’s a civil war that the Iranians are trying to take advantage of, arming the Houthis to attack Saudi Arabia. I don’t think that should paralyze us, even though it’s a serious concern.”

The Senate could vote as early as next week on separate resolutions disapproving $8.1 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

In the House of Representatives, four Democrats filed resolutions Wednesday that, if passed, would block the licenses required for the sales to move ahead.

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump vetoed a bipartisan congressional resolution ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition targeting Yemen.

Also Read- Diet Rich in Calories Cause Brain Health to Deteriorate Faster

Aside from the Yemeni conflict, lawmakers from both parties have repeatedly protested Saudi Arabia’s role in the October 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. (VOA)