Legislation

Dem lawmaker spars with own party over prison reform

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Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.) on Friday hit back at his fellow Democrats for their opposition to the bipartisan prison reform bill he’s co-sponsoring with Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.).

Jeffries said the letter sent out the day before by Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.), Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Cory Booker (N.J.), and Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas) and John Lewis (Ga.) was “riddled with factual inaccuracies and deliberately attempts to undermine the nationwide prison reform effort.”

The Democrats on Thursday called the legislation a step backwards, saying dire staffing and funding shortages make implementation untenable. They also argued the bill will preclude some inmates from participating in the very recidivism reduction programming it aims to incentivize.{mosads}

In a seven-page “Dear Colleague” letter of his own, Jeffries called that claim unequivocally false.

“The First Step Act does not prohibit anyone from participating in recidivism reduction programming,” he said.

Democrats and criminal justice reform groups are divided over the proposal, which the House Judiciary Committee voted last week to send to the floor for a vote.

The legislation provides the Bureau of Prisons with $50 million annually for five years to offer prison programs that reduce recidivism.

Under the bill, prisoners would be allowed to earn time credits for completing programs such as education and job training. Inmates could then use those credits to serve the remaining days of their sentence in a halfway house or home confinement.

Democrats opposing the bill say meaningful criminal justice reform must include provisions that reduce mandatory minimum prison sentences.

In his letter Friday, Jeffries slammed his colleagues for their stance.

“We have a Republican President. Republicans control the House of Representatives and the Senate. While the Senate authors of the opposition letter support the all or nothing approach, the Majority Leader apparently does not. Those are the facts,” he said.

“For this reason, it is not clear how exactly the opposition proposes to achieve comprehensive criminal justice reform without first considering the bipartisan prison reform legislation pending in the House.”

At a White House summit on prison reform on Friday, President Trump told lawmakers to work out their differences and pass legislation.

“As we speak, legislation is working through Congress to reform our federal prisons. My administration strongly supports these efforts and I urge the House and Senate to get together … work out their differences, get a bill to my desk. I will sign it,” he said. 

A Democratic aide told The Hill on Friday the bill is expected to get a vote in the House next week. The bill, however, seems unlikely to get enough Democratic support to pass the Senate. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is pushing his own sentencing reform legislation with Durbin.

Tags Chuck Grassley Cory Booker Dear Colleague Dick Durbin Donald Trump Doug Collins Hakeem Jeffries John Lewis Prison reform Sheila Jackson Lee
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