Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced on Dec. 11 that the criminal justice reform First Step Act is ready to be voted on, although politicians might have to work the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day to do it. This bipartisan legislation, if passed, will be a “first step” in overhauling the system, something needed for a long time. However, some believe it has too many loopholes that may hasten the release of dangerous offenders.
One of the act’s goals is to reduce recidivism – repeat offenders – especially for nonviolent crimes. It would allow early supervised release of low-risk prisoners who have earned credits toward the program. Another significant goal is to improve rehabilitation programs and give judges more choices in how they sentence offenders of nonviolent crimes, especially those involving drugs.
It would allow early supervised release of low-risk prisoners …
With those goals in mind, the legislation would secure federal prisoners no more than 500 miles from their home to make it easier for families to visit. Lower-level offenders may be placed in home confinement, which supporters suggest is less expensive than holding them in prisons. Inmates would have more employment opportunities, which could help them earn and save money for when they are released to help with rent and other necessities.
Will More Dangerous Criminals Be Released?
These all sound like excellent goals; however, opponents of the legislation argue that it is still too weak, allowing for dangerous criminals to be released early. Breitbart News obtained an analysis from the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys that addressed this very aspect. Found in the latest version of the First Step Act, which Breitbart claimed to have seen before it has been released to the public, the legal analysis lists 37 highly dangerous criminal acts whose perpetrators could see early release. Some of these include:
- Committing rape as part of a war crime – 18 U.S.C. § 2441(d)(1)(G).
- Bank robbery by force or violence including assault with a dangerous weapon – 18 U.S.C. § 2113(c).
- Drive-by shootings – 18 U.S.C. § 36.
- Assaulting a child or infant – 18 U.S.C. 113(a)(5).
- Carjacking with intent to cause death or serious bodily harm – 18 U.S.C. § 2119(1).
- Bank robbery by force or violence that puts the life of a person in jeopardy – 18 U.S.C. § 2113(d).
- First-time assault with intent to commit rape, unless have served time for certain other previous crimes – 18 U.S.C. § 3559(c)(2)(F).
- Drug-related robbery even if a person is killed or suffers significant bodily injury – 18 U.S.C. § 2118(a).
- Planting a bomb on or committing arson to a motor vehicle – 18 U.S.C. § 33.
- Destruction of an aircraft, including with an explosive device or substance – 18 U.S.C. § 32(a)(1)-(4).
- Hate crimes – 18 U.S.C. § 249.
- Conspiracy or attempt to engage in human trafficking, including trafficking of children – 18 U.S.C. § 1594.
However, some of these crimes may be adjusted in upcoming revisions. Changes expected include expanding the list of crimes that would exclude an individual from earned time credits, which reduces a prison sentence. The Hill reported that “senators are also discussing eliminating a ‘safety valve’ portion of the bill that gives judges some discretion in going around mandatory minimums.”
Pressure from President Trump seemed to have encouraged McConnell to get the bill ready for a vote:
Hopefully Mitch McConnell will ask for a VOTE on Criminal Justice Reform. It is extremely popular and has strong bipartisan support. It will also help a lot of people, save taxpayer dollars, and keep our communities safe. Go for it Mitch!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018
“At the request of the president and following improvements to the legislation that has been secured by several members, the Senate will take up the recently revised criminal justice bill,” McConnell said. Although he didn’t specify when the Senate would vote, he indicated it could be as early as Dec. 14.