Clock tick­ing for Congress to pass jus­tice re­form bill

San Antonio Express-News - - FROM THE COVER -

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.

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