The House on Thursday approved the most far-reaching overhaul of the criminal justice system in a generation, sending bipartisan legislation to President Trump that shortens sentences for some offenders and expands job training and other programs for prisoners.
The Republican-led House approved the First Step Act on a 358-36, reflecting a major pivot by the GOP from a punitive, law-and-order stance of the 1980s to policies that emphasize rehabilitation and aim to save money.
White House officials have been planning for a signing ceremony on Friday before Trump departs for Florida for the holidays. Plans call for him to invite Democrats as well as Republicans, hoping for a rare bipartisan celebration of a new law, aides said.
The bill would revise several sentencing laws, such as reducing the “three strikes” penalty for drug felonies from life behind bars to 25 years and retroactively limiting the disparity in sentencing guidelines between crack and powder cocaine offenses. The latter would affect about 2,000 current federal inmates.
It also overhauls the federal prison system to help inmates earn reduced sentences and lower recidivism rates.
The bill, which does not cover state jails and prisons, would through reductions in sentencing do the equivalent of shaving a collective 53,000 years off the sentences of federal inmates over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office — though some advocacy groups dispute this figure. There were about 181,000 federal inmates as of Dec. 13, according to the Bureau of Prisons.
The bill received a boost last month when Trump endorsed it as “reasonable sentencing reforms while keeping dangerous and violent criminals off our streets.” His thinking was heavily influenced by his son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner, who has long advocated sentencing restructuring and marshaled endorsements of the bill from a diverse coalition including law enforcement and the American Civil Liberties Union.
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