On November 14th, President Trump issued a statement calling on Congress to pass S.3649, the revised First Step Act of 2018. This legislation is an amended version of a prison reform bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in May of 2018. The Jesuits have a longstanding experience of serving those impacted by the criminal justice system. This experience has taught us that sentencing policies, prison programming, and reentry services in the United States are in desperate need of reform.
The Office of Justice and Ecology released this statement in support of the bill. While this legislation is not perfect, we are pleased to see several important policy changes added to the revised First Step Act including:
- Expanded judicial discretion in determining who qualifies for certain mandatory minimum sentences;
- Retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the 100-1 sentencing disparity between crack vs. powder cocaine offenses;
- Provision of de-escalation training to correctional officers;
- Requirement that individuals be held in a facility no more than 500 miles from their residency;
- Mandate that pregnant women not be restrained while in custody;
- Additional funding for rehabilitative programming in prisons.
Although there is bipartisan support, including from the President, given the limited time remaining for the current Congress, we need to weigh in with the Senate now! Please follow the link below to let your Senator know that you think it is important to take this first step in reforming our country’s criminal justice system.
Pope Francis has reminded us that “God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else.” Join me in letting our elected officials know that we believe passing the revised First Step Act, while imperfect and only the beginning, would set the United States on a path toward a criminal justice system that is less punitive and more focused on healing, restoration and hope for all.
Once this important first step towards reform is passed, we will continue to advocate for additional policy changes that will help us dismantle mass incarceration.