If you remember all of the hubbub when Kanye West visited the White House, you might not be surprised to see what is happening now. Kanye’s main goal was to try and convince Trump to push harder for prison reform, and it seems he had success. Trump has been a fan of this new bill for a while, but he has moved it up the priority list. Today, you can see what is in the bill and what the fight is all about.
The First Step Act
This is a bill that would make some big changes to prison law. Trump has been pushing it for a while now, and it’s currently stalled in Congress. If passed, it would be the most significant prison reform since the start of the war on drugs in the 80s. There’s a lot in the bill, but there are a few key elements that are easy to summarize.
The biggest issue is mandatory sentencing. The First Step Act aims to reduce mandatory sentences for nonviolent offences. There’s a good reason for this. Roughly 46 percent of current inmates are serving for nonviolent crimes. A big chunk of those crimes relate to drug use — including marijuana. Since harsh prison sentences don’t seem to have reduced drug use after 30 years of trying, it might be time for a change.
The other big change in the First Step Act is designed to improve job training for inmates. The goal is to improve rehabilitation rates and get ex-convicts working and productive when their sentences are completed.
The new bill holds the potential to significantly reduce the current prison population without going easy on the worst and most dangerous criminals in our society.
The Current Battle
There’s an important thing you need to remember as you keep reading. This bill has already made it through the House. That’s a House that is deeply controlled by the GOP (at least until January). We’ll get into this more in a minute, but hold onto that fact.
As of now, the bill is stalled in the Senate. Mitch McConnell has delayed voting on it because he has higher priorities. Additionally, there is still a lack of evidence that the bill would get the 60 votes needed to pass. Several Senators are vying to have the bill go through committee in order to better dissect it and possibly tweak it.
In the meantime, Trump himself and Lindsey Graham are fighting to get a vote before the end of the year. They want one last win for the GOP before the change of power in the House. If they delay, House Democrats could stall the bill and put everything back to square one. Graham is convinced the Republicans can sway enough Democrats to get the bill through the Senate and see the first real prison reform in decades.
Whining vs Action
This brings us to the key point. This bill is in danger of dying because the Democrats are unlikely to support it. A couple of Republicans might also be against it, but for the most part, it has massive support from the GOP. This is a huge divergence from the narrative you’ve been hearing. Democrats have screamed for prison reform for years. They say that the current system is unfair to minorities. It seems like a good way to win votes from people who have loved ones in the system.
That’s just it, though. The Democrats had control of the House, a supermajority in the Senate and the presidency rather recently. Not a single scrap of prison reform was passed. In fact, there was never even a full bill. Obama instead decided that unilateral mass pardoning was the better solution.
And, this is really what it’s all about. The left says things to get votes. Contrary to that, the right does things. Mitch McConnell needs to put this on the floor for one big reason (besides the potential for positive reform): it will put the true colors of the Democrats on full, public display. Will they back their talk and actually pass a bill they’ve been claiming to want for decades, or will they oppose it just because it came from the Republicans?
You already know the answer. The Democrats already have the power to stonewall this bill. Don’t give them a free pass. Make them do it with the whole country watching.