On Tuesday, the Senate passed a major criminal justice bill that addresses concerns that the war on drugs has led to the imprisonment of too many Americans for non-violent crimes without adequately preparing them on their return to society.
The passage of the bill by a vote of 87 to 12 marks the culmination of several years of negotiations. The result is greeted by many conservative and liberal groups, while giving President Donald Trump a political victory.
The bill gives judges greater discretion in sentencing certain drug addicts and strengthens inmate rehabilitation efforts. It also increases the sentences of some offenders who had received three drug-related guilt verdicts and sentenced to life imprisonment for 25 years. It is also expected to allow some 2,600 federal inmates convicted prior to August 2010 for crack-related offenses to seek a reduction in sentence.
The House of Representatives is expected to pass the bill this week. The president will then only have to affix his signature.
“The United States is the largest country in the world and my job is to fight for ALL citizens, even those who have made mistakes,” Trump said on Twitter moments after the vote.
This change will make our communities safer and give hope and a second chance to those who deserve one. In addition to everything else, billions of dollars will be saved. I am looking forward to signing this law!
The vote also delighted the Democrats. Senator Cory Booker pointed out that the country’s prisons are filled with extremely poor Americans with mental health and addictions issues.
He said the country’s criminal justice system “feeds on some communities and not others,” and believes the bill is a step toward “healing” for these communities.
This bill, which is a small step, will affect thousands and thousands of lives.
When the bill seemed blocked, in the last few weeks, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Grassley, has asked Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell to put him to the vote. At the insistence of Donald Trump, McConnell agreed and even voted in favor.
The Senate on Tuesday rejected three amendments by Republican Senators Tom Cotton and John Kennedy, saying the bill jeopardized public safety. Some feared that the adoption of any of these amendments would bring down the bill.
Many Liberal and Conservative defense groups have joined the bill. They believe that the changes it brings will make the justice system more equitable, reduce overcrowding in federal prisons and save taxpayers’ money.
The police forces have been divided, with some associations supporting it and others opposing it. The union representing the federal prison guards rallied to the measure.
However, the bill only affects federal inmates, who represent less than 10% of the country’s prison population.
David Pinder is a Senior Politics Reporter at Buffalo Morning Star covering state and national politics, and he is a grantee with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Before joining Buffalo Morning Star, he worked as a researcher and writer for the Institute for Northern Studies at Ohio State University and as a freelance journalist in Alaska, having been published by over dozens of outlets including NPR, the Center for Media and Yahoo.