Carper Votes to Advance Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Bill

FIRST STEP Act backed by diverse coalition including law enforcement and victims’ organizations, religious organizations, business groups, the National Governors Association 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) voted to advance the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person (FIRST STEP) Act (S.3649). The bipartisan legislation, which Senator Carper cosponsored, combines prison reform proposals that overwhelmingly passed in the House of Representatives earlier this year with sentencing reform provisions from the broadly bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in February 2018. The bill, which passed the Senate by a final vote of 87-12, now heads to the House for approval.

“The United States has one of the highest incarceration rates in the entire world. While our country makes up only five percent of the world’s population, it incarcerates more than 20 percent of the world’s prisoners,” said Senator Carper. “We should not be aiming to win any records for how many individuals we are incarcerating; instead, we should be working to ensure that those who serve their time are re-entering our society as better people, not better criminals. Despite the over $80 billion that our country spends on incarceration every year, our criminal justice system continues to face problems with overcrowding, inmate violence and high recidivism rates. The FIRST STEP Act puts long-awaited common-sense reforms into our federal prison system to address these problems while critically providing equal justice under the law. Today’s vote may be overdue, but I am pleased that we were finally able to seize the day and pass this legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support. I would urge the House to take this measure up quickly so that the President can sign it into law.”

The FIRST STEP Act contains both sentencing guidelines and recidivism reduction reforms. The bill’s sentencing reform provisions include:

  • Expansion of the “Safety Valve” to give judges broader discretion to sentence qualified low-level, non-violent offenders to less than the mandatory minimum penalty.
  • Retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 to allow inmates who are still serving disproportionately long sentences for crack cocaine possession to petition for sentence reductions.
  • Reduction of second- and third-strike mandatory minimum penalties for prior drug offenses, from 20 to 15 years and life in prison to 25 years.
  • Elimination of “stacking” consecutive mandatory minimum penalties for repeat offenders in possession of a firearm during certain crimes that frequently results in absurdly long sentences incommensurate with the convicted offense.

In addition to the above sentencing guidelines, the bill also includes the following provisions aimed at recidivism reduction:

  • Fix for good-time credit formula;
  • Ban on the practice of shackling pregnant prisoners;
  • Requirement to provide feminine healthcare products;
  • Requirement to place prisoners within 500-mile radius of their home residence;
  • Requirement to provide evidence-based heroin/opioid abuse treatment;
  • De-escalation training for correctional officers; and,
  • Expanded qualifications for compassionate release.

The FIRST STEP Act is supported by a number of law enforcement groups, including the nation’s largest police group. It’s also now supported by 172 former federal prosecutors including two former Republican U.S. attorneys general, two former deputy attorneys general and a former director of the FBI along with sheriffs from 34 states across the country. The National Governors Association, which represents the governors of all 50 states, praised the bill earlier this week. And a broad coalition of conservative, progressive, and faith groups also support the bill. The bill has also been endorsed by the oft-divergent editorial boards of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, as well as by the editorial board of the Houston Chronicle.

Senator Carper joins other cosponsors including Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Angus King (I-Maine), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), and Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

You can find a fact sheet of the FIRST STEP Act here.

You can find the text of the FIRST STEP Act here.