Clock ticking for Congress to pass justice reform bill
It will be a true failure of government if Congress doesn’t pass the bipartisan First Step Act this year.
If Congress fails on this front, it’s unlikely to pass criminal justice reform in the years to come. The First Step Act is a modest, but important, piece of legislation that seeks to remedy some of the inherent inequalities in the federal criminal justice system. It is not a panacea, but true to its name, it is an important first step.
Here are some key provisions:
First and foremost, it would address the sentencing disparity for older crack offenses.
For years, the criminal justice system treated crack cocaine much harsher than white powder cocaine — with clear racial implications. Crack was prevalent in black neighborhoods throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.
In 2010, Congress passed legislation to address this disparity going forward. This update would make that change retroactive, potentially reaching 2,600 federal prisoners, according to The Marshall Project, which focuses on criminal justice journalism.
The legislation would also ease or modestly reduce certain mandatory minimum sentences. It would give greater leeway to judges to opt out of mandatory minimums for some people with limited criminal histories.