Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has announced that he will allow a vote on legislation that seeks to reform our criminal justice system, before the end of 2018.
The legislation that is being considered by the Senate is the First Step Act. It targets nonviolent drug offenders who automatically received decades-long sentences as a result of mandatory minimum requirements. It would both lessen the severity of those requirements, and give judges more discretion in drug cases.
However, as we know, the United States has the world’s largest prison population with more than 2.2 million people incarcerated. This bill would only apply to federal prisons, and it is estimated that it would impact less than 3 percent of the more than 181,000 federal prisoners in this country.
We have seen support for this bill coming from both sides of the aisle. This is unusual, considering the fact that Republicans typically run on a platform of being “tough on crime.”
Not only is Trump in support of the legislation, but some of the leading for-profit prison corporations in this country also support it. That is because the legislation only applies to federal prisons… and it would actually give for-profit prisons the opportunity to benefit from it.
Core Civic and GEO Group are examples of leading members of the more than $4.8 billionU.S. prison industry, and they each donated $250,000 to Trump’s inaugural fund. Both of these corporations have come under fire over claims of forced labor in for-profit prisons, and they have also recently expanded their programs for post-prison rehabilitation.
This is notable because the First Step Act would authorize $375 million for rehabilitation programs for former inmates, and those programs would be contracted out to these corporations. So while some are saying this legislation makes a small dent at criminal justice reform, others are arguing that this is just another case that can be explaining by following the money.