Former inmates push Senate to move on prison reform bill

Former inmates push Senate to move on prison reform bill
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A group of 40 former state and federal inmates is pushing Senate leaders to take up the White House-backed prison reform bill that has divided Democrats and liberal groups, as well as GOP senators.

In a letter Wednesday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' New Yorker cover titled 'The Shining' shows Graham, McConnell, Barr polishing Trump's shoes MORE (R-Ky.), Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerNo agreement on budget caps in sight ahead of Memorial Day recess Ex-White House photographer roasts Trump: 'This is what a cover up looked like' under Obama Pelosi: Trump 'is engaged in a cover-up' MORE (D-N.Y.), Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyTrump-Pelosi fight threatens drug pricing talks Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Senators unveil sweeping bipartisan health care package | House lawmakers float Medicare pricing reforms | Dems offer bill to guarantee abortion access Bipartisan senators reveal sweeping health care package MORE (R-Iowa) and ranking member Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report Jeffrey Rosen officially sworn in as deputy attorney general This week: Democrats, White House set for infrastructure, budget talks MORE (D-Calif.), the former prisoners argue the First Step Act, while modest, offers some meaningful reforms.

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The bill, proposed by Sens. John Conryn (R-Texas) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseOvernight Energy: Democrats ask if EPA chief misled on vehicle emissions | Dem senators want NBC debate focused on climate change | 2020 hopeful John Delaney unveils T climate plan Democratic senators want NBC primary debate to focus on climate change Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog finds Pruitt spent 4K on 'excessive' travel | Agency defends Pruitt expenses | Lawmakers push EPA to recover money | Inslee proposes spending T for green jobs MORE (D-R.I.), aims to incentivize prisoners to take programs that reduce their likelihood to reoffend after they’ve been released.

But critics of the bill argue meaningful criminal justice reform must also include sentencing reform.

The former inmates say they know the bill isn’t perfect, but it’s something.

“All of us would change the bill in different ways and many of us wished it addressed excessive federal mandatory minimum sentences,” they wrote. “But we also know that the bill would provide some long overdue relief and hope to more than 180,000 people in federal prison and millions of their family members and loved ones on the outside.”

An almost identical bill passed the House last month, but so far Grassley isn’t budging. He’s instead pushing competing legislation to reduce sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.

Supporters of prison reform say demands for all or nothing is the wrong approach.

“We’ve been disturbed by some of the comments we’ve heard that doing nothing is better than doing something and that is not at all what we hear from the tens of thousands of prisoners we’re in touch with,” said Kevin Ring, president of Families against Mandatory Minimums, who spent one-and-a-half years in federal prison. “It’s also inconsistent with our own experiences being in federal prisons and knowing how much reform is needed. Waiting to do anything until you get everything is deeply misguided.”