There is a discernible clamor of excitement on Capitol Hill this week, which is manifestly surprising owing to its sense of bipartisan hopefulness.
What is bringing a customarily divided American Congress together in a notable way is the ongoing momentum of an authored Senate bill termed The First Step Act. That legislation has a strong spotlight on it presently and a clear tailwind behind it as it moves seemingly ever closer to President Trump’s desk for his endorsement and passage into law.
We have “the clearest path forward that we have had in years,” says one advocate for substantial criminal law reforms in the federal sphere.
Here’s what is going on. Reportedly, prominent voices on both sides of the political aisle are locked in agreement that heavy-handed War on Crime policies that have guided the American criminal system for decades must be materially softened, and now.
Of course, that has been suggested before, but commentators argue that things are different now. There is a growing realization that default lengthy incarceration periods, mandatory-minimum sentencing terms, reduced judicial discretion and spiraling systemic costs have rendered the justice system untenable. Meaningful change simply must occur, and both Republicans and Democrats are demanding it.
First Step calls for a number of notable changes. Those include a restoration of power residing with judges, who need to be able to make informed and unfettered decisions in given cases, and reduced behind-bars confinement periods for nonviolent (and, often, first-time) drug offenders.
Will the legislation fly? Many insiders and criminal law pundits say that things feel different concerning this reform effort. President Trump is looking for an avenue providing bipartisanship achievement, and First Step could get the ball rolling on that score.
And a stated bottom-line goal of the bill is to reduce the recidivism rate for released offenders. Analysts of the legislation routinely say that its particulars provide for that.