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July 27, 2018

"Those in Federal Prison and Their Families Can’t Wait for the Ideal Reform Bill"

The title of this post is the title of Shon Hopwood's new entry over at Prison Professors.   This piece is styled as a response to the this lengthy Hill commentary by DeAnna Hoskins, the president and CEO of JustLeadershipUSA, which assailed the FIRST STEP Act as "a step backward [that] invites a scary future" (which I discussed critically here).  I recommend folks read everything in full, and I will here reprint how Shon's piece concludes:

I speak to and receive emails from thousands of families with someone in federal prison.  These families almost invariably support First Step.  At the Reform Now rally outside Capitol Hill in early July, many of these families explained how First Step will significantly improve their family’s lives — whether by forcing the Federal Bureau of Prisons to provide meaningful rehabilitation programs or housing their loved one closer to home.  The reform groups who oppose First Step weren’t present for the rally.  I wish they were. They’d have a better understanding of what makes the federal prison system uniquely harmful to those who are inside it, and how First Step will alleviate some of those harms.

The families who aren’t supportive of First Step are mostly those with loved ones serving really long sentences or life in prison, and this won’t help them get out of prison — even as it is likely to improve the federal prison system overall.  I empathize with their pain and frustration.  But retroactively applicable sentencing provisions has no chance of passing this year.  Not even the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 was made retroactive when Democrats had a supermajority in Congress and the Presidency.  It is hard to imagine the current Congress somehow doing better.

First Step along with some sentencing additions is the best bill we can get now in the current political climate.  If we don’t take First Step now, we will be waiting at least another two years for any possibility of federal prison reform.  If the past thirty years is a guide, we are probably waiting much, much longer.  Given the stakes, there should be an urgency on all sides to get this done.

I understand that many people have strong feelings against the current President, and that undoubtedly drives some of the angst against First Step.  Yet there can be fights about every other issue without simultaneously rejecting a federal prison reform bill that provides meaningful help to those currently in prison and their families.

Some of many prior related posts:

July 27, 2018 at 12:05 PM | Permalink


For every family that misses its Daddy, there are probably three or four that dread the return of a vicious, violent, abusive criminal to the street and to their home.

Posted by: David Behar | Jul 27, 2018 12:26:48 PM

Shon Hopwood's post was very long and touched a number of topics. However, I think that the fact that the bill was passed in the house by a large bipartisan majority is a very important factor. What does it take to get a large bipartisan majority in the present poisonous environment? I think one of the factors is that some of the states have such programs and the results are fairly good. Another reason is it did not involve a lot of money. The fact that Ryan is a lame duck may have been a factor as well.

The odd thing about this is that some people appear to be threatened by the possibility of bipartisanship.

Posted by: John Neff | Jul 28, 2018 9:15:35 PM

Who provides meaningful help to those currently in prison and their families?

Posted by: disability | Jul 30, 2018 4:38:31 PM

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