There’s nothing ‘courageous’ about opposing the First Step Act, it’s part of the GOP platform

This op-ed is directed at the entire United States Senate and specifically a small group of Republican Senators who somehow believe they are being “courageous” by opposing the historic bipartisan First Step Act. 

First of all, we would like to offer a congratulations and heart-felt thank you to senators on both sides of the aisle who have supported this important piece of legislation early on or came to support it during the long and intense negotiating process. This bill is the beginning of a long overdue transformation of our federal criminal justice system. Felons will now be punished more appropriately for the crimes they have committed and the 95 percent of prisoners who will eventually be released will be better prepared to become productive citizens instead of better criminals.

For those few Republican senators, led by Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who continue to oppose this bill or have sat on the fence, now is your chance to truly do both what your constituents want and what the GOP Platform calls for — vote yes for this bill.{mosads}

On page 39 and 40 of the Republican Platform of 2016, with references to pages 37 and 38 in the 2012 version, the GOP Platform calls for a prison system that “emphasizes restorative justice to make the victim whole and put the offender on the right path.” It applauds Republican Governors and lawmakers at the state level who have implemented reforms similar to those called for in the 2012 platform — reforms that “rehabilitate and institute proven prisoner reentry systems to reduce recidivism and future victimization.”

Unfortunately, the federal system has locked up individuals for decades while failing to prepare these same people for successful reentry back into society after release. This has led to more crime and less safety for our neighborhoods.

Republicans at the federal level now have the chance to follow their GOP brethren in states like Texas, Georgia, Utah, Kentucky, and South Carolina with common-sense prison and sentencing reforms with the passage of the First Step Act.

The bill passed the House by a resounding 360-59 with only two Republican no votes and now awaits a vote in the Senate, with 18 Republican co-sponsors (and counting), likely 85+ votes in favor, and the resounding support of President Trump.

This historic bill will fulfill promises from both the 2012 and 2016 RNC Platforms by requiring an assessment of each federal prisoner at intake and throughout their prison sentence to ensure that programming and treatment provided to them is based upon their unique risk and criminogenic needs. “Earned Time Credits” could be cashed in for the lowest risk offenders to spend a small portion of the end of their sentences in an alternative form of supervised custody, such as a half-way house or home confinement. These reforms will allow them to better reintegrate into society, rather than just being warehoused and released with no assessment of risk of recidivism and no supervision of their re-acclimation after prison.

The bill also ends the practice of “stacking” drug offenses that occur prior to any conviction to make an individual a multiple-time offender for sentencing purposes even though they were never previously convicted.{mossecondads}

The bill would also modestly expand the current federal safety valve which allows for a judge to deviate from a drug related mandatory minimum for low-level offenders who have minimal criminal history and who cooperate fully with the government in cases where the offense did not involve violence. This allows for mandatory minimums to be more equitably applied while allowing those whose offense deserves a shorter sentence to reintegrate into society better and become a tax payer rather than a tax burden.

Republicans from all across the country have demanded a safer, more equitable criminal justice system. The GOP Platform makes it clear that Republican leadership has promised changes to this extent. These changes are within a bill that has overwhelming support from Republicans in both chambers. This will be a historic win for our country and for President Trump.

Republican senators must vote yes on the First Step Act in order to fulfill their commitment to Republican constituents and the party platform. 

Most importantly, voting yes will help make Americans safer while providing a brighter future for most of our incarcerated citizens.

Doug Deason is president of Deason Capital Services, serves on the board of the Texas Public Policy Foundation and conducts philanthropy as head of the Deason Foundation. Brett Tolman is a former U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah, currently with Ray Quinney & Nenebeker.

Tags Donald Trump FIRST STEP Act Mandatory sentencing Prison reform Recidivism Republican Party Sentencing Tom Cotton

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