Senate to Vote on Must-Pass Criminal Justice Reform Bill

December 11, 2018

New York, NY – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced today that the Senate will vote on a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill before the end of the year. The following is the reaction from Inimai Chettiar, the director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law:

“It’s about time. With the president, Republicans, and Democrats rallying firmly behind the revised FIRST STEP Act, Senator McConnell’s decision to move forward with a vote is overdue but welcome. This bill will be the biggest reform to our justice system in a generation. It’s indeed a first step, an initial salvo in ending the country’s miserable addiction to mass incarceration. But it is a must-pass bill. And, it must be properly implemented. Then a newly unified national consensus around ending mass imprisonment should lead to bigger, bolder steps that make our system more fair and more humane.”

Under the compromise announced last month, 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. 

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. The compromise language does not include everything the Brennan Center pushed for. But it does include several key changes to outdated laws that contributed to mass incarceration, including: lowering mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses, allowing judges more discretion to deviate from some mandatory minimum sentences, eliminating the life-behind-bars “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.