Booker prison reform bill would give older prisoners a 'second look'

Booker prison reform bill would give older prisoners a 'second look'
© Greg Nash

A bill proposed by Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerTrump neck and neck with top 2020 Democrats in Wisconsin: poll Booker says he will not make December debate stage White House makes push for paid family leave and child care reform MORE (D-N.J.) and Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassParties clash as impeachment articles move closer to House vote Democratic lawmaker open to pursuing impeachment again if Trump wins in 2020 The US treats asylum seekers so poorly MORE (D-Calif.) would allow prisoners who have served at least 10 years in federal prisons to ask for a review of their sentences to see if they are eligible for a reduction or release, lawmakers announced Monday. 

Booker, a 2020 presidential candidate, and Bass plan to introduced the “second look” bill Wednesday. It would also shift the burden to the government to demonstrate why an older prisoner should remain behind bars, as recidivism rates are significantly lower for those prisoners aged 50 and higher. 

The bill, the Matthew Charles and William Underwood Second Look Act, is inspired by Booker’s conversations with the two men for which it is named. 

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Matthew Charles was the first person released from federal custody under the First Step Act. That criminal justice reform bill, which passed with bipartisan support and was signed by President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE last year, reduced mandatory minimum sentences in certain instances and is reportedly set to release more than 2,200 inmates

Booker said he spoke with Charles after his release to discuss ways to make the system more just and reasonable. 

William Underwood, 65, is serving a life sentence in New Jersey without the possibility of parole for a nonviolent drug crime he committed in 1988. Booker has lobbied for clemency on behalf of the model prisoner. 

“While the ‘First Step Act’ was a momentous achievement, more work remains to be done,” Booker said in a statement. “Our bill targets a harsh reality: there are hundreds of thousands of people behind bars – most of them people of color – who were sentenced under draconian laws during the height of the War on Drugs that we have since recognized were unfair.”

Roughly 250,000 individuals aged 50 and over remain behind bars, costing taxpayers about $16 billion annually, according to Booker’s statement. 

“This bill is a step to ensure that with that progress, we aren’t forgetting those who did fall victim to the War on Drugs and are sitting in prison due to draconian sentencing practices for crimes that don’t fit the punishment. Unjustifiably long prison sentences aren’t just immoral, but also a waste of valuable federal resources,” Bass said.