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Trump: Eager to Sign Justice Bill      12/19 06:27

   A criminal justice bill passed by the Senate would give judges more 
discretion when sentencing some drug offenders and would boost prisoner 
rehabilitation efforts and was hailed by scores of conservative and liberal 
advocacy groups.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- A criminal justice bill passed by the Senate would give 
judges more discretion when sentencing some drug offenders and would boost 
prisoner rehabilitation efforts and was hailed by scores of conservative and 
liberal advocacy groups.

   The sweeping bill addresses concerns that the nation's war on drugs had led 
to the imprisonment of too many Americans for non-violent crimes without 
adequately preparing them for their return to society. Its passage in the 
Senate, by an 87-12 vote on Tuesday, culminates years of negotiations and gives 
President Donald Trump a signature policy victory. The House is expected to 
pass the bill this week, sending it to Trump's desk for his signature.

   "America is the greatest Country in the world and my job is to fight for ALL 
citizens, even those who have made mistakes," Trump tweeted moments after the 
Senate vote.

   "This will keep our communities safer, and provide hope and a second chance, 
to those who earn it. In addition to everything else, billions of dollars will 
be saved. I look forward to signing this into law!" the Republican president 
added.

   The vote also thrilled Democrats. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said the 
nation's prisons are full of Americans who are struggling with mental illness 
and addiction and who are overwhelmingly poor. He said the nation's criminal 
justice system "feeds on certain communities and not on others," and he said 
the bill represents a step toward "healing" for those communities.

   "Let's make no mistake, this legislation, which is one small step, will 
affect thousands and thousands of lives," Booker said.

   The bill would reduce the life sentence for some drug offenders with three 
convictions, or "three strikes," to 25 years. Another provision would allow 
about 2,600 federal prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before 
August 2010 the opportunity to petition for reduced penalties.

   When the bill appeared to have stalled in recent weeks, Sen. Charles 
Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, pleaded 
with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring it up for a vote. With 
Trump's urging, McConnell eventually agreed, and he voted for the bill as well.

   "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 Senate on Tuesday turned back three amendments from Republican Sens. Tom 
Cotton of Arkansas and John Kennedy of Louisiana, who said the bill endangered 
public safety. Supporters voiced concerns that passing any of the amendments 
would have sunk the bill.

   One amendment would have excluded more prisoners from participating in 
educational and training programs that allow them to earn credits that can then 
be used to gain earlier release to a halfway house or home confinement to 
finish out their sentences. Another amendment would have required that victims 
be notified before a prisoner gets that earlier release. The third would have 
required the Federal Bureau of Prisons to track and report the re-arrest rate 
for each prisoner who gets early release.

   "While the bill has marginally improved from earlier versions, I'm 
disappointed my amendments to exclude child molesters from early release and to 
protect victims' rights were not adopted," Cotton said. "I also remain 
concerned that reducing sentences for drug traffickers and violent felons is a 
threat to public safety."

   Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the bill already carves out some 60 crimes 
that make prisoners ineligible for early release to a halfway house or home 
confinement. He said Cotton's amendment was too expansive and would prevent at 
least 30,000 prisoners from participation.

   Durbin said the Federal Bureau of Prisons also gives victims the opportunity 
to be notified upon a change in the prisoner's status, but it's a choice. He 
said about 10 percent of victims choose not to be notified because of the 
trauma involved in revisiting the crime. Meanwhile, the amendment from Cotton 
and Kennedy would make it a requirement.

   "Supporting the Cotton amendment is basically saying to these crime victims, 
'We're going to force this information on you whether it's in the best interest 
of your family, whether you want it or not,'" Durbin said. "That is not 
respectful of crime victims."

   The bill would affect only federal prisoners, who make up less than 10 
percent of the country's prison population.

   An array of liberal and conservative advocacy groups rallied in support of 
the bill. For example, the Koch brothers-backed group, Americans for 
Prosperity, applauded senators for putting "policy ahead of politics." The 
American Civil Liberties Union said the bill was "by no means perfect. But we 
are in the midst of a mass incarceration crisis, and the time to act is now."

   Law enforcement groups were more split. The bill was backed by the Fraternal 
Order of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police but 
opposed by the National Sheriffs' Association. The union representing federal 
prison guards also joined in supporting the measure.


(KA)

 
 
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