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Press Release

New Compromise on Federal Criminal Justice Reform Should Be Priority for Congress

The measure has the support of pivotal Republicans and Democrats in Congress, President Donald Trump’s senior White House advisors, and advocacy groups including the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, and law enforcement groups.

November 13, 2018

The bipar­tisan bill would reduce mass incar­cer­a­tion through key senten­cing reforms

New York, N.Y. – It was announced tonight that lawmakers reached a comprom­ise on major crim­inal justice reform legis­la­tion that includes both prison reform and senten­cing reduc­tions, indic­at­ing that the bill is a main prior­ity before the end of the year. The meas­ure has the support of pivotal Repub­lic­ans and Demo­crats in Congress, Pres­id­ent Donald Trump’s senior White House advisors, advocacy groups includ­ing the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, and law enforce­ment groups. 

Under the comprom­ise, a White House-backed bill on prison reform — called the FIRST STEP Act — was amended to include provi­sions similar to the Senten­cing Reform and Correc­tions Act that shorten some unne­ces­sar­ily long sentences. Sen. Chuck Grass­ley (R-Iowa), Chair of the Senate Judi­ciary Commit­tee, brokered the comprom­ise with Repub­lican and Demo­cratic colleagues. Senate Major­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell (R-Ky.) has indic­ated that the cham­ber would likely vote on the legis­la­tion if it met a threshold for support.  

“Today’s news is a sign that even in a bitterly-divided polit­ical climate, lawmakers agree on the need to confront and solve our mass incar­cer­a­tion crisis,” said Ames Grawert, senior coun­sel in the Bren­nan Center’s Justice Program. “This comprom­ise bill would address some of the most egre­gious and discrim­in­at­ory parts of justice system. It comes as crime contin­ues to decline nation­wide, though near record-numbers of Amer­ic­ans remain incar­cer­ated. The legis­la­tion is just a start towards a smarter and fairer approach. But it’s an import­ant one, and it’s long past time to make these changes a real­ity.” 

The Bren­nan Center has been work­ing with allies on both sides of the aisle to push for this new bill, call­ing on Congress to either pass the Senten­cing Reform and Correc­tions Act on its own or include some of its changes in a new version of the FIRST STEP Act. Today’s comprom­ise language does not include everything the Bren­nan Center pushed for. Several provi­sions are weaker than in the original 2015 senten­cing reform bill. But the comprom­ise includes many key changes, includ­ing: lower­ing mandat­ory minimum sentences for some drug offenses, allow­ing judges more discre­tion to devi­ate from some mandat­ory minimum sentences, elim­in­at­ing the “three strikes” law along with some of the worst senten­cing enhance­ments, and permit­ting retro­act­ive applic­a­tion of the Fair Senten­cing Act, which reduced the senten­cing dispar­ity between crack and powder cocaine offenses.

For more inform­a­tion or to connect with a Bren­nan Center expert, contact Rebecca Autrey at rebecca.autrey@nyu.eduor 646–292–8316.