Lame Duck Reforms Criminal Justice

With the “lame duck” period of Donald Trump’s presidency approaching, his latest move was endorsing a new criminal justice bill, called the First Step Act, that would reform the current system. The most surprising part, it is bipartisan.

The new reform has attracted several varying and unusual supporters, all the way from the billionaire, Koch brothers to the American Civil Liberties Union. The interest on the conservative end stems from the cuts to the immense amount of United States spending concerning the growing prison population. Liberals, on the other hand, see an opportunity to stray away from long-time unfavored sentencing laws primarily concerning the disproportionate incarceration of young, African American men. 

The bill takes the existing prison reform bill passed by the House and adds four new sentencing provisions. In technical terms, this bill does a number of things, it retroactively introduces and applies the Fair Sentencing Act in order to reduce the disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses, it also expands the existing safety valve for mandatory minimum sentencing that would not apply retroactively, and it would clarify a stacking provision on crimes that were committed with firearms.

With a new focus on anti recidivism, or tendency for a criminal to reoffend, programs and the expansion of early release credits, the First Step Act would help transform many, current and future inmates experiences in the prison system. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, of the 401,288 state prisoners in 2005, each of them averaged another five arrests in the following nine years. Recidivism is a real problem in the United States.

It helps to overturn several federal policies from the 1980s and 1990s that are considered to be tough-on-crime. These policies are known to have helped promote the incarceration of African American offenders at increasingly larger rates than their white counterparts. According the NAACP, African Americans are incarcerated at five times the rate of white offenders.

While bipartisan, there are still several liberals that have raised concern over the fact that most of the provisions are not retroactive. This means that the effect of the provisions are incredibly limited because they will not encompass past sentences.

Jordyn Mullins, senior at Washburn, has proclaimed how proud he is of our nation for taking on a piece of legislation that will help so many people.

“I think it is a good addition [to our current system], moving forward.” He also recognizes a possible reason for the lack of retroactivity, “I don’t see the possibility in opening up everyone’s cases and applying the new rules to them,” said Mullins.

President Trump’s endorsement of the legislation has created a sense of ease amongst many members of the Republican party who are concerned by the reduction of hard-line sentencing.

The success of the bill becomes worrisome when taking into consideration that the “lame duck” period of Trump’s presidency is just around the corner. Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, has risen concern. “We don’t have a lot of time left,” he told reporters.

The rapidly closing window of opportunity to get this bill passed is alarming to many. This bill is deemed monumental by several individuals and will have many implications on the current prison system. Several senators have yet to see the draft of the bill, because things are moving quite slow.

Concern extends all the way to Washburn’s campus. Sophia Frick, freshman at Washburn, is also nervous about the closing window and progressive lack of opportunity for success.

“I am nervous because what from what I know about the bill, which is fairly limited, I think it sounds like a good opportunity. The window for the bill is closing, which is pretty worrisome because this possibly positive bill may not get passed,” said Frick.

This revision would be one of the largest alterations to the prison system in the last generation.