Federal Prisons

Will Congress Pass This Absolute Unit of a Prison Reform Bill?

The FIRST STEP Act would result in the immediate release of about 4,000 federal inmates, advocates say.

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Tom Pennington/MCT/Newscom

House lawmakers will soon unveil a prison reform bill that criminal justice advocates say will significantly expand federal inmates' opportunities to earn an early release from prison.

Reps. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) are expected to reintroduce the Prison Reform and Redemption Act as early as today, renaming it the FIRST STEP Act.

According to text of the bill obtained by Reason, the revised legislation would, among other things

  • allow inmates to accrue up to 54 days of good time credit a year. The changes would apply retroactively, resulting in the release of approximately 4,000 federal inmates.
  • ban the shackling of pregnant inmates, including while giving birth and postpartum. It would also require Bureau of Prison facilities to provide female hygiene products free of charge and increase available phone and in-person visitations for new mothers.
  • require the Bureau of Prisons to place inmates in facilities within 500 driving miles of their families.
  • increase the use of compassionate release for terminally ill inmates, and require new reporting on how many applications for compassionate release are accepted or denied.

Jessica Jackson Sloan, national director of #cut50, an initiative to reduce the U.S. prison population, says the bills passage would be "a meaningful step forward, there's so many areas of the criminal justice system that need reform."

"It provides a good basis for us to bring some crucial reforms, lets 4,000 people out immediately, create a pathway for thousands more to serve less time inside of prison institutions, creates more rehabilitative programs, and hopefully provides momentum to move forward with sentencing reform in the future," Sloan says. "There's a lot of goodwill on both sides of the aisle for sentencing reform. It's critical that we achieve it and I'm looking forward to that being the next step."

The Trump White House has signalled that reforming the federal prison system, including reentry programs and job training for inmates, is a priority. Senior White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner has been meeting with criminal justice groups, law enforcement organizations, and members of Congress on the issue since last year.

But reforms to federal sentencing laws is practically off the table due to fierce resistance from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which is why the White House threw cold water on a bipartisan sentencing reform bill in the Senate.

Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Il.), who have been working for several years to pass sentencing reform, have refused to back down. Politico reported last month that the two senators worked behind the scenes to delay a markup of the Prison Reform and Redemption Act scheduled in the House Judiciary Committee.

Many criminal justice advocacy groups, such as the ACLU and NAACP, have pulled their support for the bill in favor of sentencing reform.

Stuck between the two camps, conservative and more centrist criminal justice organizations have continued to support the prison reform bill, arguing it would be a step toward reducing the incarcerated population.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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27 responses to “Will Congress Pass This Absolute Unit of a Prison Reform Bill?

  1. Lots of vicious cycles go into our current nightmare of a CJ system. Locking up undesirables makes soccer moms feel good, and as long as those undesirables don’t get to vote, there’s no recourse.

    The American prison is a brutal hellscape so we need brutal prison guards to deal with it.

    All of this isn’t helped by the financial incentives, and I’m glad even libertarians tend to be skeptical of the capitalist elements of the prison-industrial complex. We don’t do progress very well when compassion is a necessary component, but maybe we’re at such a crisis point where people have no choice to look away any longer.

    1. The American prison is a brutal hellscape so we need brutal prison guards to deal with it.

      C’mon Tony! Only *parts* of the prison system are a brutal hellscape. The parts where former Democratic Governors get to visit their ailing wives and snap publicity photos isn’t as hellish as the parts that have standing room only and can’t afford to routinely empty the pit toilets.

  2. It would also require Bureau of Prison facilities to provide female hygiene products free of charge and increase available phone and in-person visitations for new mothers.

    This policy will just encourage women to get pregnant before they go to prison for life.

  3. require the Bureau of Prisons to place inmates in facilities within 500 driving miles of their families.

    I wonder if this will apply to federal prisons.

    I remember hearing Peter Schiff discussing the final days before his father died in the federal pokey. He had to get on a plane to visit his father, and then when he arrived, the prison had changed the visiting days and not told anyone because fuck you that’s why.

    1. It’s a congressional bill, so presumably it applies only to federal prisons.

      1. Oh, sorry I guess I thought there was federal oversight on state prisons.

  4. This is an absolute unit of a title!
    (No idea wtf that means, nor whether it’s a compliment or disparaging)

    1. I second your complaint. Usually I can figure out a typo, but “absolute unit” here makes absolutely no sense.

    2. I’m still trying to figure it out, too. Is it some new slang or something?

      1. It’s a relatively new meme that refers to anything large. Comes from a British tweet about a large man that read, “in awe at the size of this lad. absolute unit”.

        1. “It’s a relatively new meme that refers to anything large. Comes from a British tweet about a large man that read, “in awe at the size of this lad. absolute unit”.”

          Thank you for the explanation.
          In the context of American federal prisons, I find this terminology… disturbing

        2. I thought one of the benefits of the Declaration of Independence was we don’t have to use British slang any longer.

          Except “wanker,” which is hilarious.

      2. I thought he was calling it a dick at first, but as you say – doesn’t make sense.
        Plus, it seems like a good Bill?
        And in the context of prison, wouldn’t a unit (dick or otherwise), let alone an absolute one, be almost invariably bad?
        So confused

  5. No.

  6. Why don’t we start with simply having cameras everywhere to stop the prison rape. Separating the lifers from the short/medium timers, lockdown of any facility with a violent altercation for 3 months for -all- prisoners, make sure they have good quality food and decent environment. Provide more emphasis on reforming rather than punishing. You’ll never hear about common sense measures though.

  7. Sometimes there’s a feel good story coming out of the criminal justice system, sort of an anti-nutpunch of the cop throwing down on the wily criminal mastermind caught in the act of sticking the Mentos he’d just paid for in his pocket. (Note: the headline incorrectly says the cop was charged, the story correctly says that he was sentenced.

    1. It’s a sad commentary on the state of the world that a story about a cop actually being convicted for beating the shit out of an innocent man qualifies as “feel-good”.

  8. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAL!!!

  9. Matt Welch must be both livid AND heartbroken the women-beater prevert NY AG went down. The #RESISTANCE is getting crushed. I can’t wait for Mike M.’s take…

    1. Whatchu talkin’ about, SIV?

      1. I think he’s talking about this.

        The article doesn’t say what party the AG belongs to, can anyone tell me?

        1. The one that P.J. O’Rourke voted for the presidential candidate of

          1. The guy makes one mistake and you give him a hard time?

    2. I’m completely shocked that a straight cis-male who says all the correct things about being a feminist ally, ends up being an abusive misogynistic creep!

      Don’t count #TheResistance out yet, though. #ItsMuellerTime is still conducting his investigation of #TrumpRussia.

      1. We’re going to put Vladimir Putin on Mount Rushmore, right next to Trump and Jefferson Davis
        MAGA

        1. MAGA = Mueller Ain’t Going Away

          And don’t forget the Democrats suing Russia and Wikileaks. #TheResistance still has all the momentum, which even you’ll have to admit after you witness November’s #BlueWave.

          1. Jeff Davis was a Democrat. He lead the Mississippi Rifles in the liberation of Northern Mexico before becoming Secretary of War and then President oif the Confederate States of America in the War of Southern Independence. Of course the Parties flip-flopped after the election of Taft so Davis would’ve been a Republican now.

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