« Detailed review of Illinois juve offenders serving just barely "less than life" | Main | Lots of sentencing fun — thanks to enduring Johnson fallout — to be found in cert pool relists »

May 9, 2018

House Judiciary Committee approves FIRST STEP Act by a vote of 25-5 after lots of discussion of amendments

As reported in this article from The Hill, the House Judicial Committee "on Wednesday approved a new prison reform bill being pushed by the White House."  Here are some details:

The bill, called the First Step Act, seeks to offer more funding for prison programs in an attempt to reduce an inmate’s likelihood to re-offend after they’ve been released. The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill, by a 25-5 vote, that Reps. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) spent the last week negotiating after committee Democrats pushed back against a number of conservative provisions.

In the legislation now advancing to the House, lawmakers removed language that would have allowed certain law enforcement officials and correctional officers to carry a concealed firearm in all 50 states and created more opportunities for prisoners to earn time credits by completing prison programs. They can then use those credits to serve the remaining days of their sentence in a halfway house or home confinement.

The bill, which authorizes $50 million a year for five years for the Bureau of Prisons to spend on programs like job training and education that reduce recidivism, clarifies current law to allow prisoners up to 54 days of credit for good behavior annually. The law was previously interpreted as only allowing prisoners to earn 47 days a year.

The previous bill, known as the Prison Reform and Redemption Act, and the current compromise, however, have divided Democrats and liberal groups. While #cut50, a criminal justice reform advocacy group led by Van Jones, the CNN host and former adviser to President Obama, is now backing the new bill, the measure is still opposed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and 73 other groups.

Democrats and progressive groups argue the criminal justice reform bill should include provisions that reduce mandatory minimum prison sentences. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the committee’s ranking member, said the bill is well-intentioned but the committee should be working on legislation that includes sentencing reform. He offered a motion to postpone the markup by one month to give committee members time to negotiate and markup sentencing reform legislation.... Nadler’s motion was [after discussion] voted down by the committee.

Progressives were able to win language prohibiting female prisoners from being shackled during pregnancy, childbirth and up to 12 weeks after a baby is born. But the committee voted down an amendment Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) offered to create a pilot program in federal prisons to allow female inmates who give birth while behind bars to live with their child in a prison housing unit until the child is two-and-a-half years old.

The committee, however, approved an amendment from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) to expand a pilot youth mentorship program and a pilot program that gives prisoners the skills to train rescue and abandoned dogs. The bill would take the programs from two years in 10 facilities to five years in at least 20 facilities.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) also had an amendment approved that would prevent faith-based organizations that want to offer prison programming from being discriminated against.

A bipartisan amendment from Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), Collins, Jackson Lee, Jeffries and Val Demings (D-Fla.) was also approved to clarify that the legislative fix, which makes prisoners eligible for 54 days of good time instead of 47, applies to prisoners already serving sentences....

Collins said he’s confident there’s enough Democratic support to get the bill through the House and the Senate. “They have their own process to go through. There may be some issues that we can then work on later, but I do feel this is one of the pieces of legislation that will be signed into law this year,” he said.

The House Judiciary Committee has this press release about the vote and key provisions of the bill under the heading, "House Judiciary Committee Approves Bill to Reform the Federal Prison System."  Though not mentioned in these reports, I believe all the Republican votes coming from the committee were in favor of this FIRST STEP bill except for Rep. Steve King from Iowa, and also that a majority of the Democrats in the committee also voted for the bill (though Ranking Member Jerry Nadler and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee were among the notable "No"s).

All of this suggests to me a reason to be optimistic that there might really be some notable federal criminal justice reform getting done in 2018.  It is less than I would like to see, but I still think it would be MUCH better than nothing. 

Some of many prior related posts:

May 9, 2018 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


These favorite issues of members on both side all seem weak and at the margins. None will have serious effect on the rate of massive criminality. The bill is pretty and frivolous.

OK. A pregnant lady is unshackled. She makes run for it. She is lumbering down the hall at full speed. The guards can catch up and offer her a wheel chair ride back to her room.

Silly law.

Posted by: David Behar | May 9, 2018 4:30:44 PM

Good time days clarification, I dont think so.

It depends on the ref point.

Get 54 days after 1 yr is served. Get 47 days off 12 months. So if you have 2 yrs will get 47 X 2, if you forecast ahead good time days. Frivilous at best..

Get real and say, multiply the sentence by .85 thats what you serve, not .875 as is now.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | May 14, 2018 3:33:25 PM

what about the conspiracy laws?i was locked up for 51 months plus 6 months half way house at the end. I was sentenced to 78 months mind you it was not a bad experience as I was elegiabble for the 500 hr. drug programin which I received 10.5 months off not the year that I was supposed to get. my wife was also incarcerated and was givin the manditory mininiumum but neither one of us had gotten caught with any dope at all they went off the woman whom we bought meth from word thst she sold us dope we didn't have a leg to stand on.my point is is that that is a crazy for coming up with crazy amounts of dope that never got seen just could have been and I never sat down and discussed anything with anybody sowhats the don gonna do with that crock of shit.

Posted by: jeff bailey | Jun 19, 2018 12:45:16 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB